Exercise may prevent dementia, but not in the way you think

Exercise alters brain blood flow and improves cognitive performance in older adults.

Exercise may improve cognition

Exercise alters brain blood flow and improves cognitive performance in older adults, though not in the way you might think. 

A new study published by University of Maryland researchers in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease showed that exercise was associated with improved brain function in a group of adults diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and a decrease in the blood flow in key brain regions.

“A reduction in blood flow may seem a little contrary to what you would assume happens after going on an exercise program,” explained report author Dr Carson Smith. “But after 12-weeks of exercise, adults with MCI experienced decreases in cerebral blood flow. They simultaneously improved significantly in their scores on cognitive tests.”

Dr Smith explains that for those beginning to experience subtle memory loss, the brain is in “crisis mode” and may try to compensate for the inability to function optimally by increasing cerebral blood flow.

While elevated cerebral blood flow is usually considered beneficial to brain function, there is evidence to suggest it may actually be a harbinger of further memory loss in those diagnosed with MCI.

The results of the study by Dr Smith and his team suggest exercise may have the potential to reduce this compensatory blood flow and improve cognitive efficiency for those in the very early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

A control group of cognitively healthy older adults without mild cognitive impairment also underwent the exercise-training program, which consisted of four 30-minute sessions of moderate-intensity treadmill walking per week. But the program yielded different responses from each group.

Unlike the group with MCI, whose exercise training decreased cerebral blood flow, the exercise training increased cerebral blood flow in the frontal cortex in the healthy group after 12 weeks. Their performance on the cognitive tests also significantly improved, as was observed in the MCI group.

For this study, changes in cerebral blood flow were measured in specific brain regions that are known to be involved in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease, including the insula (involved in perception, motor control, self-awareness, cognitive functioning), the anterior cingulate cortex (involved in decision making, anticipation, impulse control and emotion) and the inferior frontal gyrus (involved in language processing and speech).

Specifically, among those with MCI, the decreased cerebral blood flow in the left insula and in the left anterior cingulate cortex were strongly correlated with improved performance on a word association test used to measure memory and cognitive health.

“Our findings provide evidence that exercise can improve brain function in people who already have cognitive decline,” Dr Smith said optimistically.

“We have an interest in targeting people who are at increased risk for developing Alzheimer’s earlier in the disease process. We are seeing that exercise can impact biomarkers of brain function in a way that might protect people by preventing or postponing the onset of dementia.”  

Does this latest research encourage you to increase your exercise regime?

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    COMMENTS

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    Rosret
    6th Feb 2019
    11:13am
    "A control group of cognitively healthy older adults without mild cognitive impairment also underwent the exercise-training program, which consisted of four 30-minute sessions of moderate-intensity treadmill walking per week. But the program yielded different responses from each group." mmmm
    Rod63
    6th Feb 2019
    11:51am
    I'm already running 50km per week. That's enough at my age (66).
    But many people do need to exercise more for all sorts of reasons.
    Virginia
    6th Feb 2019
    12:15pm
    Not true You can make numbers in tests show what you want.
    My Mother and Father danced for 4 hours 4-5 nights a week until she was diagnosed simultaneously with cancer and Alzheimers at
    Heaps of exercise and socialization a 83 years
    My Father died last year at 97 he continued dancing but not as much
    Its your genes as much as anything. Exercise is a must for a healthy worthwhile life.
    KSS
    6th Feb 2019
    12:57pm
    Its not just 'exercise', beneficial as it is, but also the intensity at which it is done. A 30 minute stroll round the shops is better than nothing but would do little to improve health. Whereas upping the intensity (how hard you work) to levels where you have to huff and puff and cannot hold a conversation (or at least can't speak i full sentences without breathing) would do a lot more for general health and well being.

    The researchers here say "moderate intensity" and many people would not understand what that was (it is somewhat uncomfortable) without proper guidance.
    Charlie
    9th Feb 2019
    12:09am
    My brain is not convinced
    Drew
    11th Feb 2019
    11:08am
    test


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