Alzheimer’s and Exercise: Improving Mental Health and Cognitive Function


Degenerative brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, are a foremost concern for anyone who is aging.  To find ways to reduce symptoms and slow cognitive impairment, researchers and scientists are suggesting that medium-intensity walking exercises can have an effect by increasing the availability and health of blood vessels in the brain. These studies suggest that exercise has a clear link to the health of your brain, especially over the age of 60.

Related Conditions and Causes of Declining Cognitive Health

Participants with vascular cognitive impairment, sometimes called vascular dementia or VCI, who walked three hours per week for six months had improved reaction times and other signs of improved brain function, as reported in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. As well, University of British Columbia has conducted their own study: “As there is no current cure for Alzheimer’s, there is an urgent need for interventions to reduce the risk of developing it and to help manage the symptoms,” says study first author Kathleen Martin Ginis, professor in UBC’s School of Health and Exercise Sciences. “After evaluating all research available, our panel agrees that physical activity is a practical, economical and accessible intervention for both the prevention and management of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.”

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Vascular cognitive impairment refers to mildly impaired thinking or more advanced dementia that’s caused by the same kinds of blood vessel damage seen with heart disease elsewhere in the body. It is the second most common cause of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease. The brain is an organ which requires oxygen from the blood to perform its function. When these blood vessels lose strength and degenerate, the brain is unable to receive its necessary nutrients, resulting in cognitive decline. These studies all come to the same conclusion – exercise can promote vascular health and contribute to the overall health of cognitive functions.

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Scientific Studies Discover How to Help Prevent Dementia

The study went on to find that, second to exercise, reduced blood pressure was associated with improved cognitive function. Aerobic exercise was identified by this study as an effective method to see clear results towards a healthier brain. The study divided participants into two groups. The first group performed 1 hour walking classes, 3 times a week, whereas the second group was left to their usual care. In addition, both groups were provided information on how to start a healthy diet, as well as information on VCI and tips to improve cognitive function. Before the beginning of this, both groups received an MRI to determine their current brain function. At the end of 6 weeks, both groups received the same MRI. The researchers found that the first group, which performed aerobic exercise, had clearly changed to be aligned closer to healthy brain function. The second group was unchanged.

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This study, and similar studies conducted across the globe, reveal that our brain health is dependent on exercise to maintain vascular strength, and therefore cognitive function as well. As we age, the blood vessels through are body are subject to wear – like the old adage goes, “If you don’t use it, you lose it”. Our blood is the transport for nutrients, especially oxygen, and without that bloodline areas of the body become deficient and unable to perform to their capacity. With all this in mind, we are confident in suggesting that anyone who is aging talk to their doctor and find a method to practice aerobic exercise weekly. Whether this means going for a one hour walk a few times per week, or taking a trip to the pool, getting your blood pumping is proving to be essential in delaying the effects of dementia.

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