Many people, as they approach their sixth and seventh decades of life have become very fearful and stressed about developing this dreaded disease.  A disease that was unheard of only 30 years ago.

One of the most frequent questions I’m asked, especially by baby boomers is,  “Is there anything I can do to prevent Alzheimer’s?”

YES,  of course there is.

When I was a medical student, during the 1970s, Alzheimer’s disease was rare!

I saw one case during my entire medical school career. I know that sounds incredible, but that is the truth.

A recent conducted at the University of Pittsburgh and three other universities has determined that  a year of moderate exercise — the kind enjoyed by senior citizens who walk laps at the mall — can increase the size of an area of the brain related to memory in older adults and lead to improved spatial memory.

The study, published this month  in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was the first of its kind to follow non-exercising  adults ages 60 to 80 who already were experiencing a natural shrinking of the hippocampus, a section of the brain involved in memory function.

Researchers found  magnetic resonance images taken before, during and after the study determined that adults who were involved in moderate aerobic activity — walking 40 to 60 minutes three times a week — experienced an increase in the size of the hippocampus, while those who engaged in stretching exercise only experience slight shrinkage.

Spatial memory tests taken before, during and after the study showed improved memory function among the walkers.

“This research is very exciting,” said Kirk Erickson, professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh and study lead author. “We often think of the aging brain as being immutable tissue that atrophies as we grow older. But now we know just a moderate amount of exercise can have a large impact. We also know conclusively that exercise works from the neck up.”

Art Kramer, director of the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois and senior author of the study, said the improvements were the equivalent of turning back the clock two years for the walkers.

“It’s a very modest program, it’s not running a marathon. … We took professional couch potatoes who didn’t get much exercise, started them out walking 15 minutes and gradually worked them up to an hour,” Beckman said.

“The toughest part isn’t the research, it’s convincing people to get off the couch.”