How Aerobic Exercise Battles Cognitive Decline And Dementia
A new study started this month at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC, is designed to understand whether high- or low-intensity exercise, or both, can help to treat people with impaired regulation of blood glucose with early cognitive problems.
Impaired regulation of blood glucose, typically seen in patients with type 2 diabetes, has been linked to increased risk of cognitive impairment and dementia. Although the benefits of aerobic exercise for physical and mental health are well known, exercise effects on cognition have not been assessed in older adults with poor glucose regulation associated with pre-diabetes.
According to health experts, there are no FDA-approved medications for mild cognitive impairment, also known as MCI - and the best thing they can do for themselves is to stay physically and mentally active.
Memory declines with aging, even in healthy people, for a variety of reasons. Dementia is a general term for a significant decline in cognitive function that interferes with daily life.
Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia, accounting for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases, according to the Alzheimer's Association. What used to be referred to as senility or just 'old age' is now much more understood, recognized and talked about. However, there is still a lot of anxiety and fear about dementia, and with good reason.
The number of dementia cases in the US has increased because of the rising number of elderly people. It's estimated that 5 percent of the population will have dementia by the age of 65. By the age of 80, the figure jumps to a staggering 30 percent.
Some health experts have been studying the benefits of aerobic exercise in slowing cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease. A recent observational study showed that higher levels of cardiorespiratory fitness during middle age means that people are less likely to develop dementia in their senior years.
In a related study, twenty-eight adults ranging between 57-83 years old with proven glucose intolerance were asked to complete 6 months of either aerobic exercise or stretching.
Researchers measured executive function in these adults before and after the test period. Executive functions are a set of mental skills that work together to help a person achieve goals - and includes the ability to properly manage time and attention, switch focus, plan and organize, remember details, curb inappropriate speech or behavior and integrate past experience with present action.
Along with executive function, researchers also measured memory performance, cardiorespiratory fitness, body fat and fasting plasma levels of insulin - and showed that six months of aerobic exercise significantly improved executive function, cardiorespiratory fitness and insulin sensitivity.
Clearly, aerobic exercise has significant benefits for cognitive health in older glucose intolerant adults. This finding has important implications for the growing number of American adults who are at an increased risk of cognitive decline, including MCI and Alzheimer’s disease.