Exercise for the Mind

Exercise may improve memory for people with mild cognitive impairment

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Mild cognitive impairment causes problems with memory, language and thinking. It can also put people at a greater risk for developing Alzheimer's. For patients with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), exercising may offer some protection for the mind. 

A recent study found that exercising improved memory and brain function in older adults with MCI. The same study also found similar benefits for older adults who did not have MCI.

"Exercise regularly every week."

This study was led by J. Carson Smith, PhD, of the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Maryland in College Park. The research team wanted to determine whether exercise would have an effect on cognitive function (processing and understanding information) in older adults with MCI.

This study included 35 older adults between the ages of 60 and 88. The participants had exercised less than three days a week in the previous six months.

The researchers split the participants into two groups: 17 participants with MCI and 18 participants with healthy brain function.

Both groups were put on a 12-week exercise program that included 44 sessions of walking on a treadmill at moderate intensity while being supervised. The intensity of each session was increased gradually during the first four weeks until participants were walking for 30 minutes per session for four sessions per week.

At the beginning and end of the study, the participants completed a series of neuropsychological tests to measure their memory and brain function.

During one of these tests, brain scans were taken to measure brain activity. 

Participants also completed exercise tests before and after the program to measure levels of fitness. Heart rate and blood pressure were two of the measures used to determine fitness level.

The researchers found that both the MCI group and the healthy group saw a significant improvement in their memory scores for at least one of the tests given. Both groups also had about a 10 percent increase in fitness level after the 12-week program.

Additionally, researchers found that after the program, there was a decrease in brain region activation while participants completed a test. This means that the brain did not have to work as hard to come up with answers on the test.

The study authors concluded that their findings suggest that exercising may lead to an improvement in cognitive function in older adults with and without MCI. They added, however, that more research is needed to determine if exercising can delay the progression to Alzheimer's disease.

This study was published in the August issue of the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.

This study was funded by a grant from the Graduate School Research Growth Initiative at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and by the Clinical and Translational Science Award Program of the National Center for Research Resources, National Institutes of Health.

The authors reported no competing interests.

Review Date: 
July 31, 2013
Last Updated:
August 1, 2013