Aerobic exercise may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease
Aerobic exercise appeared to reduce cognitive impairment — a finding that may help guide future Alzheimer’s disease research, according to study results published in Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
“We were interested in understanding the mechanism of cognitive function improvement due to exercise in people with amnestic mild cognitive impairment,” Binu Thomas, PhD, senior research scientist at University of Texas Southwestern's O’Donnell Brain Institute, told Healio Psychiatry. “Ours was the first study to assess brain function benefits of performing aerobic exercise for 12 months. Most previous studies in mild cognitive impairment have assessed benefits after performing exercise interventions for 6 months or less. We were also interested in assessing if exercise has the potential to be used as an alternate means to slow or prevent Alzheimer’s disease.”
According to Thomas and colleagues, amnestic mild cognitive impairment is a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease development, and clinical trials based on anti-amyloid strategies to prevent decline have mostly failed. However, studies have shown that aerobic exercise is a low-cost and potentially effective Alzheimer’s disease prevention approach.
In the current prospective clinical trial, Thomas and colleagues enrolled 30 participants aged 60 years or older with amnestic mild cognitive impairment into an aerobic exercise training group or a stretch training/control group for 12 months. Three times per week, both groups engaged in 25 to 30 minutes of training, with a gradual increase in frequency and duration over time.
Results showed a 47% improvement in some memory scores after 1 year among the aerobic exercise group compared with minimal change among the stretching group. At-rest brain imaging of the aerobic exercise group, taken at the study’s beginning and end, showed increased blood flow to the hippocampus and the anterior cingulate cortex, both of which are associated with memory function.
“Exercise seems to show promise for improving cognition and blood flow to brain regions sensitive to Alzheimer’s disease,” Thomas told Healio Psychiatry. “Pharmaceutical companies could use this information to improve cerebral blood flow to brain regions that showed increased blood flow in this study, to see if it is beneficial in mild cognitive impairment. Exercise may also be prescribed to delay or prevent Alzheimer’s disease processes.”