In a new study, researchers investigated whether exercise could potentially delay or improve symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). They discovered that both high-risk and AD-diagnosed older adults who engaged in aerobic exercise alone experienced a three-times greater level of improvement in cognitive function compared to those who engaged in both aerobics and strength training.

The new findings may be the first to show that, among older adults who are at risk for or who have AD, aerobic exercise may be more effective than other types of exercise in preserving the ability to think and make decisions.

Exercise has long been prescribed to help improve the brain health of older people. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that older adults perform 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise (such as brisk walking), 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic training, or a combination of the two types.

WHO also recommends older adults perform muscle-strengthening exercises on at least two or more days a week.

However, not all studies of exercise and older adults have proven the benefits of aerobics and/or strength training. In fact, it’s still unclear whether exercise slows mental decline or improves older adults’ ability to think and make decisions.

For the review, the researchers analyzed 19 studies that examined the effects of an exercise training program on cognitive function in older adults who were at risk for or diagnosed with AD.

The studies included 1,145 older adults, most of whom were in their mid-to late 70s. Of the participants, 65 percent were at risk for AD and 35 percent had been diagnosed with AD.

The findings show that older adults who engaged in aerobic exercise alone experienced a three times greater level of improvement in cognitive function than those who participated in combined aerobic training and strength training exercises. The researchers also confirmed that the amount of exercise WHO recommends for older adults was reinforced by the studies they examined.

In addition, older adults in the no-exercise control groups experienced declines in cognitive function. Meanwhile, those who exercised showed small improvements in cognitive function no matter what type of exercise they did.

Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disorder that destroys memory and thinking skills over time. There is presently no cure for the condition, though treatment options are available.

Today, approximately 5.3 million Americans live with AD, and it is now the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. The number of older adults who will develop AD is expected to more than triple by 2050.

The researchers published their findings in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Source: American Geriatrics Society