Staying Active May Lower Alzheimer's Risk

Physical inactivity and low educational attainment possibly risk factors for Alzheimer disease

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Alzheimer’s disease and the memory loss and behavioral changes that come with it can take a major toll on patients and their families. Unfortunately, the number of Alzheimer's cases continues to rise with the growing elderly population.

Although the causes of the condition remain unknown, researchers continue to study risk factors in an effort to delay the onset of the disease.

In new research from the United Kingdom, researchers studied how seven risk factors may play into Alzheimer's. These factors included physical inactivity, smoking, depression, obesity and low educational achievement, among others.

The scientists found that physical inactivity was linked to the largest proportion of Alzheimer's cases in the US, Europe and the UK.

"Stay active to potentially delay Alzheimer's disease."

Sam Norton, PhD, of the psychology department at King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry in the United Kingdom, led this research.

In this study, Dr. Norton and his colleagues analyzed population risk factors for Alzheimer’s, including diabetes, midlife hypertension (high blood pressure), midlife obesity, physical inactivity, smoking, depression and low educational attainment.

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative condition that impairs memory and thought processes. It is a form of dementia, a loss of mental function that can affect behavior.

In 2010, an estimated 30.8 million people around the world had Alzheimer’s, with that number expected to reach 106.2 million by 2050, the study authors noted.

The team conducted a meta-analysis by compiling data from numerous previous studies.

Based on the research, diabetes was present in 6.4 percent of Alzheimer’s cases studied, amounting to 969 attributable cases worldwide in 2010.

Midlife hypertension was present in 8.9 percent of study participants, or 1,746 cases.

For the remaining risk factors, those figures worldwide were as follows: 3.4 percent for midlife obesity, or 678 cases; 17.7 percent for physical inactivity, or 4,297 cases; 13.2 percent for depression, or 2,679 cases; 27.4 percent for smoking, or 4,718 cases; 40 percent for low educational attainment, or 6,473 cases.

The researchers found that if the seven risk factors were reduced by 10 percent between 2010 and 2050, instances of Alzheimer’s disease could be reduced by 8.8 million.

“Of the seven risk factors, the largest proportion of cases of Alzheimer’s disease in the USA, Europe, and the UK could be attributed to physical inactivity,” Dr. Norton and his colleagues wrote in the study. “Present estimates suggest that about a third of the adult population in these regions is physically inactive. Other than Alzheimer’s disease, low physical activity is related to increased risks of other health outcomes and is estimated to be the fourth largest risk factor for non-communicable diseases.”

This study was published online in the August edition of peer-reviewed journal The Lancet Neurology.

Grant funding was provided by the National Institute for Health Research Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

The authors did not disclose any relevant conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
July 15, 2014
Last Updated:
July 18, 2014