Exercise Prescribed to Improve Memory

Exercising twice a week may improve thinking ability and memory in people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), according to a new guideline released by the American Academy of Neurology.

“Regular physical exercise has long been shown to have heart health benefits, and now we can say exercise also may help improve memory for people with mild cognitive impairment,” said Ronald Petersen, M.D., Ph.D., lead author, and director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at the Mayo Clinic and the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging. “What’s good for your heart can be good for your brain.”

Mild cognitive impairment is an intermediate stage between the expected cognitive decline of normal aging and the more serious decline of dementia. Symptoms can involve problems with memory, language, thinking, and judgment that are greater than normal age-related changes, researchers explained.

Generally, these changes aren’t severe enough to significantly interfere with day-to-day life and usual activities. However, mild cognitive impairment may increase the risk of later progressing to dementia caused by Alzheimer’s disease or other neurological conditions.

But some people with mild cognitive impairment never get worse, and a few eventually get better, researchers note.

The new guidelines were developed after researchers reviewed all available studies on mild cognitive impairment. Six-month studies showed twice-weekly workouts may help people with mild cognitive impairment as part of an overall approach to managing their symptoms.

“Exercising might slow down the rate at which you would progress from mild cognitive impairment to dementia,” Petersen said.

He encourages people to do aerobic exercise: Walk briskly, jog, whatever you like to do, for 150 minutes a week. That’s 30 minutes five days a week or 50 minutes, three days a week.

The level of exertion should be enough to work up a bit of a sweat but doesn’t need to be so rigorous that you can’t hold a conversation.

Another guideline update says clinicians may recommend cognitive training for people with mild cognitive impairment. Cognitive training uses repetitive memory and reasoning exercises that may be computer-assisted or done in person individually or in small groups. There is weak evidence that cognitive training may improve measures of cognitive function, the guideline notes.

The new guideline does not recommend dietary changes or medications. There are no drugs for mild cognitive impairment approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

More than six percent of people in their 60s have mild cognitive impairment across the globe, and the condition becomes more common with age, according to the American Academy of Neurology. More than 37 percent of people 85 and older have it.

With such prevalence, finding lifestyle factors that may slow down the rate of cognitive impairment can make a big difference to individuals and society, Petersen notes.

“We need not look at aging as a passive process; we can do something about the course of our aging,” he said. “So if I’m destined to become cognitively impaired at age 72, I can exercise and push that back to 75 or 78. That’s a big deal.”

The new guideline, endorsed by the Alzheimer’s Association, updates a 2001 academy recommendation on mild cognitive impairment.

Source: Mayo Clinic