Neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease, continue to pose significant challenges in terms of effective treatment and prevention. Despite extensive research and ongoing clinical trials, there is currently no definitive therapy for these conditions. As the global population ages, the prevalence of neurodegenerative diseases is on the rise, resulting in significant economic and social burdens on healthcare systems worldwide.
EXERCISE AND ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE
In the case of Alzheimer's disease, recent studies have suggested that physical exercise may help slow down disease progression, both directly and indirectly, even when practiced by older individuals. Consequently, physical activity is considered a crucial modifiable behavioral factor in the prevention and management of neurodegenerative diseases and is often at the forefront of public health promotion initiatives.
EXERCISE AND HEALTHY BRAIN AGING
More recently, researchers have begun to explore the potential benefits of physical exercise in promoting healthy brain aging. It is hypothesized that exercise activates biochemical mechanisms that can prevent neuronal cell death and attenuate cognitive decline[^1]. Physical activity has been found to reduce excessive production of free radicals and help reverse certain risk factors, such as lower testosterone levels, for Alzheimer's disease. Conversely, a high-fat diet has been shown to activate inflammatory factors that may lead to increased cellular stress[^1]. Additionally, exercise has positive effects on mood, reducing the likelihood of depression, which is detrimental for both patients and caregivers and common in neurodegenerative diseases.
ANIMAL STUDIES HIGHLIGHT THE BENEFITS OF EXERCISE
Animal studies have revealed even more astonishing benefits of exercise. Exercise has been reported to improve learning and memory, enhance neurogenesis, promote neuronal plasticity, and slow down disease progression. Epidemiological studies have consistently demonstrated that exercise is effective in reducing the risk of age-related diseases, including Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. However, there are still many aspects to consider and evaluate when translating these biological findings into clinical practice and everyday life.
THE ALARMING PREVALENCE OF PHYSICAL INACTIVITY
It is a well-known fact that physical inactivity has become increasingly prevalent in many countries, contributing to the high rates of overweight and obesity. In Italy alone, more than one-third of the population is overweight, and one in nine individuals is classified as obese. The lack of physical activity is a major contributing factor to the rising incidence of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, various types of cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases.
THE GLOBAL PROBLEM OF PHYSICAL INACTIVITY
Globally, one in four adults is physically inactive, with developed countries, including Italy, reporting even higher rates, affecting one in three individuals. These alarming statistics have prompted experts to emphasize the urgent need for increased physical activity to combat the growing health crisis. The consequences of physical inactivity are not limited to individual well-being but also have significant implications for healthcare costs. Sedentary behavior provides an ideal environment for the development of chronic conditions, which require prolonged and costly medical care.
THE ROLE OF NON-AGGRESSIVE PHYSICAL ACTIVITY
It is important to note that physical activity does not necessarily require individuals to engage in intense competitive sports. Any form of movement can be beneficial, whether it is engaging in physical exercise, walking or cycling to work, or dedicating leisure time to active pursuits. The emphasis should be on encouraging individuals to incorporate physical activity into their daily routines and creating supportive environments that promote an active lifestyle.
GUIDELINES FOR PHYSICAL ACTIVITY
To combat physical inactivity, it is recommended that individuals engage in at least 75-150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week. This can include activities such as brisk walking, aqua aerobics, cycling on flat terrain, skating, playing volleyball or basketball, and hiking. For those seeking more intense physical activity, running, cycling, hockey, tennis, soccer, martial arts, and swimming are excellent options.
THE FUTURE OF PHYSICAL EXERCISE AND ENERGY CONSUMPTION
Giuseppe D'Antona, coordinator of the Sports Medicine Center in Voghera and a physiology professor at the University of Pavia, suggests that the focus should shift towards energy consumption when considering physical activity. He recommends aiming for a minimum daily expenditure of at least 700 kilocalories, which can be achieved through activities such as running for 80 minutes at a speed of 5 kilometers per hour or cycling for two and a half hours. This energy expenditure can also be accumulated through daily activities such as household chores and gardening. Short, high-intensity workouts, as demonstrated in online video tutorials, can also be effective in increasing the basal metabolic rate, resulting in higher calorie consumption even at rest.
THE BENEFITS OF STRENGTH TRAINING
In addition to aerobic exercise, it is essential to incorporate strength training to improve muscle strength. Weightlifting, bodyweight exercises, yoga, as well as activities such as digging and shoveling, promote muscle growth and overall physical fitness.
The evidence is clear: physical exercise plays a crucial role in preventing neurodegenerative diseases and promoting overall brain health. By adopting an active lifestyle and engaging in regular physical activity, individuals can reap numerous benefits, including improved cognitive function, reduced risk of chronic diseases, and enhanced emotional well-being. It is imperative for governments, organizations, and individuals to prioritize and support initiatives that encourage physical activity, ensuring a healthier future for all.