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Exercise eccentrically for possible brain boost

Thursday, 21 April 2016

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Could something as simple as walking down stairs be the latest weapon in the fight against dementia and Alzheimer’s disease?

With more than 350,000 Australians suffering from dementia, and the number expected to rise to 900,000 by 2050, Edith Cowan University researchers have begun a pilot study investigating whether eccentric exercise can prevent cognitive decline.

Exercise eccentrically

Lead researcher Professor Ken Nosaka said it was well established that exercise in general was effective at preventing cognitive decline with ageing, but the Stay Sharp Program run in conjunction with the City of Perth was testing if eccentric exercise could lead to even better results.

“Despite how it sounds, eccentric exercise does not involve going for a run in a silly costume,” he said.

“Eccentric exercise is where load is placed on the muscle while it is lengthening, rather than shortening. For example, walking down stairs is eccentric exercise because your front thigh muscles are lengthening when they are placed under load, as opposed to walking up stairs in which the muscles are shortening, performing mainly concentric contractions.”

The trial involves about 30 people aged over 60 taking part in a 12 week eccentric exercise program at the City of Perth's Rod Evans Community Centre with cognitive tests carried out before and after this period to track any improvement.

Brain benefits

Professor Nosaka said there was a growing body of evidence that the health benefits of eccentric exercise were greater than from concentric exercise.

“Our recent study has demonstrated that eccentric exercise is effective in lowering resting blood pressure and reducing arterial stiffness, together with reducing bad cholesterol but increasing good cholesterol in the blood. This is significant because we know that improving the blood flow to the brain can help prevent cognitive decline, which is a precursor to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease,” he said.

“We have also found that eccentric exercise significantly improves insulin sensitivity which can help protect against diabetes, which is a known risk factor for developing dementia.”

Professor Nosaka said if the trial proved successful a wider study involving more participants would be the next step.

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