Can Exercise Reverse Cognitive Decline?

Headstrong - Wed, 18 Apr 2007

New studies have shown a definite connection between exercise and reduced loss of brain tissue in older adults.

It is a well-known fact that physical exercise can prevent the wasting of muscles that may result in older people becoming invalids,bedridden or confined to nursing homes, with little chance of any reasonable quality of life. The same holds true for people suffering from dementia, particularly the most common type, Alzheimer’s disease. They can also end up in nursing homes, even if they are in quite a good physical condition.

The good news is that moderate exercise over most of yourlife can not only assist in the prevention of onset cognitive deterioration, but may actually be able to reverse existing damage, at least to a certain extent.

Walking, swimming and cycling are great ways to maintain an active lifestyleA recent study published in the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Studies was conducted by Arthur F. Kramer, a neuroscience and psychology professor. He and his team found that there is evidence to suggest thatmoderate exercise can increase brain volume in older adults. This is especiallysignificant as Alzheimer’s is associated with a shrinking of the brain volume.

Not long ago the common belief was that cognitive declineand associated brain shrinkage were inevitable with advanced age. But testsconducted on other animal species have shown that stimuli such as diet,exercise, social and environmental factors can result in improvements in cognitive function.

“Moderate exercise over most of your life can not only assist in the prevention of onset cognitive deterioration, but may actually be able to reverse existing damage”
In Kramer’s study sedentary subjects aged 60-79 years undertook a six-month exercise program three days per week. Half of the participants did walking or other gentle aerobic exercise. The remainder did non-aerobic exercise such as stretching and toning.

A co-author of the study Edward McAuley is a professor of kinesiology at the University of Illinois. He and his team monitored the physical fitness of all of the subjects, as the level of both aerobic andnon-aerobic activity was increased during the course of the study. The teamc ompared magnetic resonance imaging scans of the participants’ brains beforeand after the six-month exercise program.

At the end of the study, the researchers found that those individuals undertaking aerobic exercise showed greater increases in brainvolume compared with those doing the non-aerobic exercise program. The findingsconfirmed those obtained by the same researchers in a cross-sectional study conducted in 2003, also appearing in the Journal of Gerontology, which indicated an association between low physical fitness and high loss of brain tissue in older adults.

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