People who experience cognitive impairments should be encouraged to engage in regular cardiovascular activity, says a recent study. Published in the January issue of Archives of Neurology (2010; 67 , 71–79), the study sought to discover whether regular exercise could have a beneficial effect on mild cognitive impairment.
According to the Mayo Clinic website, mild cognitive impairment affects about 20% of the population over 70. “Mild cognitive impairment is a transition stage between the cognitive decline of normal aging and the more serious problems caused by Alzheimer’s disease,” states the website.
The study included 33 subjects aged 55–85 who suffered from the disorder. They were separated into a high-intensity aerobic exercise group or a stretching control group. Those in the aerobic group exercised at 75%–85% of heart rate reserve for 45–60 minutes four times per week. After 6 months, significant improvements were seen in the exercise group; the women (n = 17) seemed to make greater gains than the men.
“Aerobic exercise is a cost-effective practice that is associated with numerous physical benefits,” stated the study authors. “The results of this study suggest that exercise also provides a cognitive benefit for some adults with mild cognitive impairment.” But why does this type of exercise improve cognition? According to the authors, exercise may defend against impairment by producing nerve-protecting compounds; increasing blood flow to the brain; improving development and survival of neurons; and decreasing the risk of heart and blood vessel diseases. “Six months of a behavioral intervention involving regular intervals of increased heart rate was sufficient to improve cognitive performance for an at-risk group without the cost and adverse effects associated with most pharmaceutical therapies.”