OK, let me start by stating the obvious. Exercise is good for brain health. You know that. Everyone knows that.
But there are still some important questions about that that we would like better answers to. Such as, how does exercise benefit cognition? What kind of exercise? How much? How often?
And most importantly of all, how much can exercise actually improve the cognition of people with mild cognitive impairment?
Well, a new study offers the best answers I’ve seen yet, and in every case, it’s good news for people with MCI.
So that’s what I want to talk about today.
Hi, I’m Tony Dearing, of GoCogno.com, the website for people with mild cognitive impairment.
When it comes to exercise, the evidence that it can benefit people with MCI is clear. In fact, it’s overwhelming.
The American Academy of Neurology has a set of guidelines for how MCI should be treated, and of all the healthy habits that can enhance cognition — diet, better sleep, stress reduction, braining training — there’s only one where the evidence is so strong that the Academy says urges every doctor to recommend it to their patients with MCI.
And that’s exercise.
But a blanket statement really isn’t all that helpful. People want something more specific so they know they are doing the right kind of exercise and the right amount.
And above all, they would appreciate some hard data that can show them that if they make the effort, they’re going to get the benefit, and hopefully, a lot of benefit.
So now comes a study that offers assurance in all those areas.
This study was done at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and published in May in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
It involved 30 people, all 60 or older, with mild cognitive impairment.
Half of them did 12 months of aerobic exercise training, and the other half served as a control group, doing some light stretching.
And here are the two key findings.
At the end of a year, the people with MCI who exercised regularly showed a 47 percent improvement in memory scores. That’s a pretty dramatic gain.
What’s more, they showed a measurable increase in blood flow to the hippocampus and other regions of the brain strongly associated with memory.
Definitely, one of the things here is keeping that exercise program going. Previous studies have shown that it can take at least sixth months for someone to begin to see cognitive benefits from exercise.
This new study tells us that if you stick with it for a year, that’s when it can really pay off, in terms of improved memory.
And of course, the other question people always have is, how much? How often?
In this study, the people with MCI began by working out three times a week for 25 to 30 minutes and gradually increased from there. In terms of getting a cognitive benefit, the optimal dose of aerobic exercise for adults in their 60s or older looks to be about 40 minutes, four times a week.
So that could be brisk walking in your neighborhood or on a treadmill. Or a stationary bike or an elliptical machine, or swimming, or water aerobics. And don’t overlook tai chi, which is a gentle form of movement that’s been shown to be particularly brain healthy, and particularly benefit for people with MCI.
I will say this much. When I look at people who have been able to halt or reverse their MCI, almost always, exercise has been part of the strategy that worked for them.
If you’re already doing that, keep it up. If you’ve been thinking about it, there’s no better time to start.
Of course, if you’ve been sedentary, check with your doctor before you start an exercise program. But as long as you’ve got that green light, go for it. Exercise is absolutely part of the answer.
Thanks for joining me today. I look forward to seeing you again next week. Until then, as always, be kind to your mind