With a 32 percent chance of individuals with mild cognitive impairment developing Alzheimer's disease, according to a systematic review from United BioSource Corporation, researchers continue to focus on these very early stages of cognitive decline for Alzheimer's disease and dementia prevention. Recently updated guidelines on mild cognitive impairment from the American Academy of Neurology determined twice-weekly exercise can improve memory and thinking in those with mild cognitive impairment.
"What's good for the heart can be good for your brain," according to Ronald Petersen, M.D., Ph.D., lead author, director of the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, Mayo Clinic and Mayo Clinic Study of Aging. This is because regular exercise is beneficial for the heart and blood vessels that nourish and support the brain.
Thus, the guidelines recommended aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking or jogging, to get the heart pumping. The goal is to work up a sweat, but it doesn't need to be incredibly rigorous exercise. It's ideal to get 150 minutes of exercise a week, breaking it up into either 30 minute sessions five times a week or 50 minute sessions three times a week. However, working out even just twice a week can help those with mild cognitive impairment manage their symptoms, and might slow down the rate of progression to dementia. Previous research published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease found that even 10 minutes of exercise can boost brain power.
"What's good for the heart can be good for your brain."
Reducing risk and delaying onset
With increasing prevalence of cognitive disease, it's important for research to determine the lifestyle factors that can slow decline and help with disease management and prevention. While symptoms of mild cognitive impairment, such as problems with memory, language and thinking, don't usually prevent patients from following their normal day-to-day routines, they can later lead to more severe neurological conditions like Alzheimer's disease and dementia. The goal of regular exercise is to reduce this risk, and keep symptoms at bay. According to Dr. Peterson, positively intervening with brain aging can push back the onset of major cognitive impairments by at least a few years.
The new guidelines were endorsed by the Alzheimer's Association, the leading nonprofit organization for Alzheimer's care, support and research. The association supported the idea that heart-healthy efforts like dieting and regular physical exercise can also be extremely beneficial for brain health. With this knowledge, doctors may be likely to recommend exercise before medication for patients with mild cognitive impairment.