Mild Aerobic Exercise for Six Months Improves Cognitive Health

Science has made tremendous progress in Alzheimer’s research and the more we learn about this particular condition the more we learn about age-related cognitive decline as a whole. And a new study says that simply adding aerobic exercise could improve your brain’s functional health, which makes you more resistant to cognitive decline.

According to lead study author James Blumenthal, the operating model for the study was to observe what happens when we improve heart health. Summarizing the model and the study, the Duke University clinical psychologist explains, “You’re improving your brain health at the same time as improving your heart health.”

Of course, there is much agreement across the medical community that lifestyle interventions definitely help reduce risk for developing Alzheimer’s Disease as well as cardiovascular decline. However, notes Weill Cornell Medicine Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic director Dr. Richard Isaacson, this randomized clinical study illustrates the benefits quite well. As such, he advises, “You can do something today for a better brain tomorrow.”

So just what is that you have to do today in order to get that better brain?

Well, as with most exercise, you will have to commit to some kind of activity for a certain amount of time. The biggest obstacle that many people have in achieving their health goals is not really knowing how much time to commit and for how long.

This study then, perfectly illustrates that it only takes about six months of mild aerobic exercise (about 45 minutes) three times a week to see results.

But lets take a closer look at the study. The researchers took 160 adults with high blood pressure and/or other cardiovascular risks, who did not exercise, and had verified concerns about cognitive decline. The test population were all over the age of 65 but two-thirds were female, though they were equally divided in terms of race.

Those previously diagnosed with dementia were excluded from this study.
The 160 participants were randomly divided into four groups. The first group started the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) but was not encouraged to exercise. The second group was instructed to exercise (10 minutes of warmup and 35 minutes of walking or cycling three times a week) but not encouraged to follow a specific diet. Group three did both and group four only received advice during a 30 minute call and was told not to change their diet or exercise habits.

The results indicate that Group 2 showed the greatest improvement in executive function than the Group 1. The researchers conclude that exercise is the single most important thing you can do to improve cognitive health, but a heart healthy lifestyle will best support it.