Can Mild Exercise Delay Cognitive Decline?

Couple Running with DogResearchers at the University of Maryland School of Public Health recently found in a study that mild exercise, in the form of walking for 30 minutes four times per week, resulted in detectable changes in brain regions believed to be related to cognitive impairment.

All study participants engaged in the same walking program for the three-month study. One group of participants was comprised of healthy elders, while a second group consisted of elders with mild cognitive impairment. Individuals in both groups underwent fMRI brain scans at the start of the study. At the end of the study, both groups showed memory improvement in recalling a list of words. But only the group of subjects with mild cognitive impairment also showed increased connectivity to the brain regions related to cognitive impairment, as revealed by fMRI scans.

While this study suggests that exercise may help stimulate or restore plasticity of some brain functioning related to cognitive decline, it remains unclear how effectively exercise training can delay further decline in patients already diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment.

The researchers are encouraged that these findings suggest that exercise can confer protective effects on cognition and brain connections and are planning further studies in the future. More about this study, which appeared in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease 57, can be found here.