The mechanisms revolve around blood circulation, which improves during bouts of moderate to intense physical activity.
Mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which occurs in one and five people over the age of 65, can be delayed by relevant lifestyle changes. Diet and exercise are often ranked as chief among these.
MCI is typically the most predictive element of serious neurodegenerative illness in older populations. Health systems diagnose the condition based on the presence of the following symptoms:
- You forget things more often.
- You forget important events such as appointments or social engagements.
- You lose your train of thought or the thread of conversations, books or movies.
- You feel increasingly overwhelmed by making decisions, planning steps to accomplish a task or understanding instructions.
- You start to have trouble finding your way around familiar environments.
- You become more impulsive or show increasingly poor judgment.
- Your family and friends notice any of these changes.
“This is part of a growing body of evidence linking exercise with brain health,” explains the study’s leader and professor of neurology Rong Zhang, Ph.D., in a university release. “We’ve shown for the first time in a randomized trial in these older adults that exercise gets more blood flowing to your brain.”
The authors began analysis with a study sample comprised of 70 adults between the ages of 55 and 80 who previously reported symptoms characteristic of MCI.
After an MRI screening, a series of cognitive exams, and a fitness test, the group was placed on a year-long exercise regimen. Researchers randomly assigned each participant to either a stretching program or an aerobic program.
The aerobic group exercised 3 to 5 times a week for 30 to 40 minutes. Exercise physiologists subsequently monitored both groups for six weeks before having the participants track their own progress with the help of a heart rate monitor.
Those who committed to their year-long workouts evidenced vastly improved blood flow at the follow-up analysis that took place the following year. These findings were more profound among the aerobic group, however.
It should be noted that a daily brisk walk was deemed sufficient as far as the study results are concerned. Further annual checkups confirmed the results of the first.
“Over a median 4.7-year follow-up, higher MCS was associated with a reduced risk of cognitive decline and dementia (12% and 15% respectively, per 10-unit increase),” the authors wrote in the new report.
Although the link bridging habitual exercise and reduced dementia risk is primarily a correlative one, the team is currently conducting a two-year study called, the Risk Reduction for Alzheimer’s Disease (rrAD). in the hopes of strengthening its clinical application.
“Having physiological findings like this can also be useful for physicians when they talk to their patients about the benefits of exercise,” Zhang concludes. “We now know, based on a randomized, controlled trial, that exercise can increase blood flow to the brain, which is a good thing.”