In a recent study published in Neurology, scientists show that exercise may be associated with a small benefit for elderly people who have memory and thinking problems.
The research involved people with vascular cognitive impairment, which is the second most common cause of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease.
People with vascular cognitive impairment have problems with memory and thinking skills. This is because of the damage to large and small blood vessels in the brain.
Previous studies have shown that exercise can help reduce the risk of developing memory problems, but few studies have looked at whether it can help people who already have these problems get better or keep from getting worse.
In the current study, researchers from the University of British Columbia recruited 70 people with an average age of about 74 who had mild vascular cognitive impairment.
Half of the participants took part in one-hour exercise classes three times a week for 6 months. The other half received information each month about vascular cognitive impairment and a healthy diet, but no information on physical activity.
All of the participants were tested before the study started, at the end of the study and again 6 months later on their overall cognitive abilities and how well they could complete their daily activities.
The result showed that people who exercised had a small improvement on thinking skills compared to those who did not exercise. The scores of those who exercised improved by 1.7 points compared to those who did not exercise.
In addition, people who exercised also improved in their blood pressure and overall cardiovascular capacity compared to the other group.
These findings are also important to note given that high blood pressure is a risk factor for developing vascular cognitive impairment.
Researchers suggest that more studies are needed to determine whether exercise can improve thinking abilities in people with mild vascular cognitive impairment.
Furthermore, large samples might be needed in the future to detect differences in specific thinking abilities, such as planning, and everyday skills, such as managing one’s finances.
Citation: Liu-Ambrose T, et al. (2016). Aerobic exercise and vascular cognitive impairment: A randomized controlled trial. Neurology, published online. DOI: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000003332.
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