Exercise Shows Benefits In Early Stages Of Cognitive Decline

First Posted: Nov 19, 2015 06:56 PM EST

Improving fitness may counteract brain atrophy in older adults, according to a recent study.

"Many people think it is too late to intervene with exercise once a person shows symptoms of memory loss, but our data suggest that exercise may have a benefit in this early stage of cognitive decline," said Dr. J. Carson Smith, associate professor of kinesiology and senior author of the study, said in a news release.

Researchers at the University of Maryland found that older adults improved their fitness through moderately intense exercise programs that increased thickness of the brain's cortex--otherwise known as the outer layer of the brain that atrophies with Alzheimer's disease (AD). The study results showed that both healthy older adults and those who had been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI)--an early stage of Alzheimer's disease (AD)--benefited.

For the study, researchers analyzed data on previously physically inactive participants, between the ages 61 and 88 years old, who were put on an exercise regimen that included moderate intensity walking on a treadmill four times a week over a twelve-week period. They found that cardiorespiratory fitness improved by 8 percent as a result of training in healthy patients and those with mild-cognitive impairment.

According to the study authors, this is the first study to reveal that exercise and improved fitness can impact cortical thickness in older adults diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment.

The study is published in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society.

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