It’s easy to get lost in the advice for preventing Alzheimer’s: The research on prevention measures like brain games, alcohol intake and diet seems to evolve by the week. But if there’s one thing researchers have agreed on, it’s exercise. In fact, the American Academy of Neurology recommends exercise for mild cognitive impairment over drugs.
The truth is, there is no cure or effective treatment that halts dementia. But evidence suggests that getting heart-thumping exercise can possibly delay or prevent diseases like Alzheimer’s, and for a field that has a 99.6 percent failure rate in clinical trials, both researchers and patients are turning to preventative lifestyle measures.
A new study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society suggests exactly what kind of exercise is helpful in delaying dementia in patients that are already showing symptoms, or those who are at-risk for dementia due to genetics or a mild cognitive impairment diagnosis. After looking at 19 studies that examined 1,145 people, they concluded that aerobic exercise by itself was three times as beneficial for the brain as aerobic exercise combined with strength training. When compared to a no-exercise control group that showed signs of cognitive decline over time, researchers found that any exercise showed small improvements.
The research backs up a World Health Organization recommendation for older adults: 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise like brisk walking, 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic training like running or dancing, or a combination of the two types.
Not all of the studies the researchers examined pointed to exercise as as being beneficial. In observational studies like this one, it can be difficult to say for sure whether the effect being observed is from exercise or another factor in the individual’s life that might be preventative, like education level, social engagement or diet. Still, it’s hard to deny that exercise seems to help.
“Our findings suggest that exercise training may delay the decline in cognitive function that occurs in individuals who are at risk of or have Alzheimer’s disease, with aerobic exercise possibly having the most favorable effect,” wrote the researchers.
This study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.