“My concern early on in the study was, ‘What if just aerobics makes a difference? Good luck getting the majority of Americans doing it aerobic exercise on a regular basis!’ It’s not sustainable,” said the study’s author Laura Baker, professor of gerontology and geriatric medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, via email.
“But we found that cognitive function did not decline over 12 months for either intervention group — the people doing aerobic exercise or the people doing stretching, balancing and range of motion,” Baker said.
Rudy Tanzi, a professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School in Boston, welcomed the findings that a modest amount of exercise — 120 to 150 minutes a week for 12 months — can slow cognitive decline in sedentary older adults with mild cognitive impairment.
Tanzania, who was not involved in the study examined the role of exercise in mice genetically bred to have Alzheimer’s disease and found that exercise induces the birth of new neurons in the part of the brain most affected by the brain. Alzheimer’s disease, while also stimulating beneficial growth factors that enhance neural efficacy.
“So often the benefits of interventions seen in mouse models for Alzheimer’s disease don’t translate to human patients. It’s nice to see that in this new study, the benefits of exercise may well be translated from mice to humans,” said Tanzi, who heads the genetics and aging research unit at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
What is Mild Cognitive Decline?
“Individuals with mild cognitive impairment are not cognitively normal, but they don’t have dementia,” Baker said. “They are fully capable of taking care of themselves, but what they have to go through to do that is exhausting.
“‘I can’t remember where I should be. Let me check my calendar. Oh, I forgot to write on this calendar. Let’s see another calendar. Oh, I can’t find that calendar. I’ve lost my phone Where is? the key? I can’t find the key.’
“They can regroup and get things done in the early stages,” Baker said, “but the toll is huge.”
The other group did stretching, balance, and range-of-motion exercises designed to allow them to move their bodies in a way that would help them navigate real life.
“People in the balance-range or motion group said they were excited — they could go to football games with grandkids without worrying about tripping, or they could drive and turn their necks to see the back, which they didn’t have.” can see do before,” Baker said.
Importance of support
Both groups trained twice a week with a personal trainer for the first 12 months and then twice a week alone. Combined, the groups completed more than 31,000 training sessions during that time, Baker said.
At the end of the 12 months, cognitive function was not impaired in either group. That’s impressive, Baker said, because a control group of equally matched people with mild cognitive impairment — who didn’t exercise — did decline.
Studies have shown that social support is also key to improving brain health. So is it possible that the results of the study? were due to an increase in social support and not to exercise?
“Well, we’re not sure,” Baker said. “But there’s plenty of science showing the benefits of exercise alone for brain health. So this isn’t something to be brushed under the rug.
“And our recommendation would never be for people with mild cognitive impairment to do this alone,” she added. “They will need support. So just exercising is not a recipe. Exercise with support is a recipe, and that becomes our recommendation.”