Next Steps in Understanding Role of Exercise in Alzheimer Risk: Stephen Rao, PhD


The director of the Schey Center for Cognitive Neuroimaging at Cleveland Clinic shared the next steps in building on previous research that links exercise with a reduced Alzheimer disease risk.

"Our understanding is, is that we’re probably not going to be able to get everyone to exercise, but we may be able to understand the mechanisms in which exercise prevents Alzheimer disease. Perhaps that could be used to create some type of pharmacological intervention, for example.”

The recently initiated CYCLE-AD trial (NCT04748861), led by 2 researchers from Cleveland Clinic, will represent the first randomized controlled trial to explore if a long-term exercise intervention program can alter the progression of late-onset Alzheimer disease (AD) in sedentary, high-risk individuals.1

One of those principal investigators, Stephen Rao, PhD, previously conducted an 18-month observational study that found AD-related progression, as measured by memory testing and hippocampal volume, was slower in genetically high-risk individuals who exercise regularly. Additionally, the data suggested that beginning a physical activity regimen as early as possible, specifically before substantial hippocampal volume or functional activity loss occurs, can help maximize the effect of the activity.2

According to Rao, the results of the study were “interesting” but needed further validation and a more expanded look at the mechanism of why exercise is neuroprotective. Jay Alberts, PhD, co-principal of CYCLE-AD also noted that challenges for the 2 include finding out how much activity makes a difference for altering the progression of AD, as well as devising a widely available program that’s interesting enough for people to consistently engage in during their senior years.

In an interview with NeurologyLive, Rao discussed his recently conducted research, some of the biggest takeaways, and how it played a role in the creation of the CYCLE-AD trial.

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