One of the greatest fears of older adults is Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). AD is devastating to the victim and the victim’s family. Although there is no cure for this disease, there are ways to minimize the risk including regular exercise.
While some level of memory loss is a normal part of aging, Mild Cognitive Impairment, or MCI, is a sign of more substantial memory loss and linked to AD. The good news is that there is research showing that exercise can improve memory and brain function in older adults with MCI!
A University of Maryland study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease showed a 12-week program of moderate exercise improved memory recall and neural efficiency in a group of older adults (average age 78) with MCI. No drug has ever shown results like these!
In the study two groups of inactive seniors did an exercise program on a treadmill guided by a personal trainer. One group had MCI while the other group did not. The amount of exercise was consistent with the recommendation for a weekly total of 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise – meaning it is not so strenuous that you cannot carry on a conversation while doing it.
Tests and imaging were done before and after the 12-weeks of exercise. The tests showed a significant improvement in neural efficiency meaning it did not take as much work to recall or recognize a name. Since one of the hallmarks of MCI is a big decline in remembering names this improvement is significant.
The results of this study suggest exercise may reduce the need for over-activation of the brain to recall something. This is great news for the thousands of Americans looking for something they can do to preserve normal brain function and memory as they age!
In another study done by one of the same researchers four groups of people were studied based on their classification as being at low or high risk for AD and having low or high activity levels. Specifically, the research measured changes in hippocampal volume. Loss of hippocampal volume is a specific part of AD directly linked to loss of memory. In addition, there are no known treatments to preserve hippocampal volume in people who may develop AD.
Of the four groups studied only those with a high genetic risk who also did not exercise experienced a loss of hippocampal volume over the 18 months of the study. All the other groups, including those who were at high risk for AD but who were physically active, maintained the volume of their hippocampus.