Dr's Casebook: Six minutes of daily high-intensity exercise could delay Alzheimer's disease
Dr Keith Souter writes: Dementia is not a single condition, but an umbrella term used for a group of brain disorders that cause a deterioration of intellectual faculties such as memory, concentration and judgement. The commonest form is Alzheimer’s disease, which accounts for about 60–70 per cent of cases, followed by vascular dementia, which makes up about 20 per cent.
Recent research from New Zealand published in The Journal of Physiology suggests that short daily bursts of high-intensity exercise could keep the brain healthy and delay the onset of disorders like Alzheimer’s disease.
It has been found that this high-intensity exercise increases the production of a specialised protein that is essential for brain health and memory function. It seems to have a protective role that limits cognitive decline. This protein is called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).
The researchers looked at the effect of both fasting and exercise on BDNF production. They studied and compared four interventions and their effects on protein production. These were, fasting for 20 hours, light exercise consisting of 90 minutes of low-intensity cycling, six minutes of high-intensity cycling and combined fasting and exercise.
They found that the six-minute bursts of vigorous exercise was almost five times more effective than fasting or low-intensity exercise for the longer time.
Why it should have such an effect is unclear, but they suspect that it is to do with the brain switching from using glucose as its main metabolism to lactate. Seemingly, using this lactate metabolic pathway initiates the production of BDNF.
It may also have something to do with the concentration of platelets, the smallest of the blood cells, which store large amounts of this protein. Exercise seems to increase their production by up to 20 per cent.
Obviously if one is not used to exercise then you shouldn’t suddenly go for broke. But steadily and gradually up it to make it part of regular life.