Alzheimer’s Disease Improved by Exercise, University of Maryland Study Shows

Older adults with mild cognitive impairment improve memory recall and brain function with regular exercise.

A recent study by the University of Maryland School of Public Health shows that exercise may improve cognitive function in those at risk for Alzheimer’s by increasing the efficiency of brain activity associated with memory.

Led by Dr. J. Carson Smith, assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology, the study offers new hope for those diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). if is the first to show than an exercise intervention with older adults with mild cognitive impairment (average age 78) improve not only memory recall, but also brain function, as measured by functional neuroimaging (via fMRI). The findings are published in the August issue of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

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“We found that after 12 weeks of being on a moderate exercise program, study participants improved their neural efficiency – basically they were using fewer neural resources to perform the same memory task,” says Dr. Smith. “No study has shown that a drug can do what we showed is possible with exercise.”

Two groups of physically inactive older adults, ranging from 60-88 years old, were placed on a 12-week exercise program that focused on regular treadmill walking and was guided by a personal trainer. Both adults with MCI and health brain function improved their cardiovascular fitness by close to ten percent by the end of the intervention. More importantly, both groups improved their memory performance and showed enhanced neural efficiency while engaged in memory retrieval tasks.

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These results were realized with a dose of exercise consistent with the recommended physical activity for older adults. The guidelines stress moderate intensity exercise that increases your heart rate and makes you sweat, but isn’t so strenuous that you’re unable to carry a conversation while doing it, on most days for a combined 150 minutes per week.

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