The idea of exercising every day is often associated with weight loss and overall good health but these benefits are not confined to the physical benefits only. A new study by the research team from UT Southwestern reveals that exercise improves blood supply to the brain, improving cognition and memory, and saving from memory loss. This benefit is more helpful for older adults who are at high risk of memory loss. Subjecting some participants with mild memory problems to a regular exercise plan lasting one year provided them with significant benefits. The complete findings of this study are now published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Dr. Rong Zhang from the UTSW is the leading researcher and author of this study. According to him, there is strong evidence on how exercise may improve brain health. But this randomized trial is the first one among older adults, revealing how the brain gets more oxygen when you exercise. It may be the reason how cognition-related problems and memory loss is less frequent among people who regularly follow an exercise routine.
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It is common for 1/5th of all older adults suffering from mild cognitive impairment (MCI). This MCI refers to the small changes that take place inside the brain especially related to memory, analytical skills, reasoning, or even decision making. Uncontrolled and untreated cases of MCI lead to permanent memory loss, i.e. dementia, Alzheimer’s, and this risk is highest when a person doesn’t exercise.
It is already clear that low blood flow towards the brain makes the blood vessels stuff and increases the likelihood of MCI as well as dementia. There are some studies that explain how to exercise particularly aerobic exercise affects cognition and build better memory in all older adults, who may not be having any other health issue otherwise.
However, it wasn’t clear how exercise affects the blood vessels structure, or the blood flow to the brain before this study. Munro Cullum, from UTSW, a senior co-author in this study says that these findings are not conclusive and still there is much more which we don’t know. The benefits of exercise are clear but MCI and Alzheimer’s/dementia have more than one factor involved. There are high chances that exercise will save some of these people but it can’t be true for all of them.
in this experiment, Zhang, Cullum, along their other colleagues studied 70 participants between the ages 55 to 80 years, who were diagnosed with MCI. These participants included both men and women, subjected to various cognitive exams, tests, and scans to confirm their condition. After that they were divided into two groups, one of which was allowed to follow moderate level aerobics and the other was allowed to follow a stretching program for an upcoming whole year.
This exercise included three to five sessions every week, including up to 40 minutes of any moderate exercise, i.e. brisk walk.
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These exercise sessions were monitored for six weeks, by the exercise physiologists and the data from these participants was recorded through a heart rate monitoring device. A total number of 48 participants, 19 from the aerobics group and 19 from stretching group completed this exercise plus the follow up.
The aerobic exercise group experienced lesser stiffed blood vessels especially in their neck region and an improved blood supply to the brain. It means that their oxygen consumption remarkably increased however this same was not experienced by the people in stretching group.
The study didn’t find any particular effect of exercise against memory loss or any other cognitive benefit, and the researchers believe it is probably because of the small sample size and short duration of this trial. For future, in depth and longer trials studying more participants may help establishing this link.