Stretching, range of motion and aerobic exercise all slow cognitive decline, study says

Stretching, range of motion and aerobic exercise all slow cognitive decline, study says

“My concern at the beginning of the study was ‘What if aerobics alone makes a difference? Good luck getting most Americans to do aerobic exercise on a regular basis!’ It’s not sustainable,” said study author Laura Baker, professor of gerontology and geriatric medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, via email.

“But we found that cognitive function did not decline over 12 months in any of the intervention groups, the people who did aerobic exercise or the people who did stretching, balance and range of motion,” Baker said.

Rudy Tanzi, a professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School in Boston, welcomed the findings that a modest amount of exercise (120 to 150 minutes a week for 12 months) could slow cognitive decline in sedentary older adults with mild cognitive impairment.

Tanzi, who was not involved in the study, examined the role of exercise in mice genetically bred to have Alzheimer’s disease and found that exercise induces the birth of new neurons in the section of the brain most affected by Alzheimer’s disease, at the same time as stimulates beneficial growth factors that enhance neurons. exercise.

“Very often, the benefits of interventions seen in mouse models of Alzheimer’s don’t translate to human patients. It’s good to see that in this new study, the benefits of exercise may indeed translate from mice to humans,” Tanzi said. , who heads the genetics and aging research unit at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

What is mild cognitive impairment?

The study, presented Tuesday at the 2022 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in San Diego, followed 296 participants who were completely sedentary at the start of the experiment. All had been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment, the earliest stage of the slow slide into dementia.

“People who have mild cognitive impairment are not cognitively normal, but they don’t have dementia,” Baker said. “They are fully capable of taking care of themselves, but what they have to go through to do so is exhausting.

“‘I can’t remember where I’m supposed to be. Let me check my calendar. Oh I forgot to write on this calendar. Let’s check another calendar. Oh I can’t find that calendar. I’ve lost my phone where is it?’ the key? I can’t find the key.

“They are able to regroup in the early stages and accomplish things,” Baker said, “but the cost is immense.”

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Participants in the study underwent cognitive tests and were then randomized into two groups. One group performed moderate-intensity aerobic training on treadmills or stationary bikes, striving to reach a goal 70% to 85% of heart rate reserve: “That’s about 120 beats per minute for about 30 to 40 minutes for a standard 70-year-old,” Baker said.

The other group did stretching, balance, and range-of-motion exercises designed to allow them to move their bodies in ways that would help them navigate real life.

“People in the balance range-of-motion group said they loved it: they could go to soccer games with their grandchildren without worrying about tripping, or they could drive and turn their neck to see their back, something they hadn’t been able to do “. do before,” Baker said.

importance of support

Both groups exercised twice a week with a personal trainer and then twice a week on their own for the first 12 months. Combined, the groups completed more than 31,000 exercise sessions during that time, Baker said.

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At the end of 12 months, cognitive function had not decreased in either group. That’s impressive, Baker said, because a control group of similarly matched people with mild cognitive impairment, who didn’t exercise, went down.

Studies have shown that social support is also key to improving brain health. So, is it possible that the results of the study were due to increased social support and not due to exercise?

“Well, we don’t know for sure,” Baker said. “But there’s enough science to show the benefits of exercise alone on brain health. So this isn’t something to sweep under the rug.

“Y our recommendation would never be for people with mild cognitive impairment to do this alone,” he added. “They are going to need support. So exercise alone is not a recipe. Supported exercise is a recipe, and that will be our recommendation.”

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