Regular exercise can slow the progression of cognitive impairment. A half hour of aerobic exercise four to five times a week may prevent or slow cognitive decline in older adults who are at a high risk of developing Alzheimer’s, according to a new study published Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
The Good News
- The study was a small trial of people ages 55 and older with mild cognitive impairment. Mild-cognitive impairment (MCI) is where cognitive changes are noticeable and of concern to the individual and/or family but are not yet debilitating.
- Subjects were randomized to 12 months of aerobic exercise or stretching and toning. Aerobic exercise had more benefits on reducing hippocampal shrinkage than stretching. The hippocampus is a region of the brain crucial for memory.
The Less Good, Not Quite Bad News
- News reports and the study note that neither type of exercise prevented the amyloid clumps, which are often described as a “hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. No. Just no. There is plenty of evidence of people who have significant amyloid clumps and tau protein tangles who do not have Alzheimer’s. It is time for the media and researchers to stop calling this a “hallmark” of Alzheimer’s. If a large number of people have these clumps and tangles and do not have Alzheimer’s disease, it is by definition not a “hallmark” of the disease.
- Of course, as always whenever encouraging news comes from a small study, there is the obligatory “more research must be done.” Of course it must, but it’s silly to sit around and wait for it, unless you are a researcher. We know exercise is so good for so many organs and bodily systems. It’s best to just assume it’s going to help our brain.
The Better Than Good News
- When you combine aerobic activity with thinking and reacting to your environment (think of the difference between running on a treadmill or running on a trail where each step requires seeing the surface of each upcoming footfall and choosing how to act) you greatly enhance the benefits of aerobic exercise.
Yes, more research needs to be done…that’s what they always say. But there is enough evidence in to confidently claim that aerobic exercise can help slow the progression of mild cognitive impairment. And any good news in that area should be celebrated.