As we grow older, we might experience mild cognitive impairment, which is basically a consequence of the aging process. Mild cognitive impairment, which usually starts at midlife, is defined as “an intermediate state between the normal thinking, learning and memory changes that occur with age and dementia.” Those who have mild cognitive impairment are likely to develop full-blown dementia than those who do not have it. About 1 to 2% of the general population will eventually develop dementia. This number could be 10 times higher in those with cognitive impairment – 10 to 15% each year.
The good news is that there is a simple way of slowing down the progression of dementia – physical exercise. This has been reported in several research studies.
In one study, researchers from University of Washington School of Medicine and Veterans Affairs Puget Sound Health Care System in Seattle investigated the effects if aerobic exercises in 33 adults with an average age of 70 years. The results showed that those who engaged in regular aerobic exercises experienced significant improvement in cognitive function while those who did exercise showed no improvement. The improvement was more evident in women than in men even though there was no significant difference in exercise intensity between genders. The researchers think “the sex differences may be related to the metabolic effects of exercise, as changes to the body’s use and production of insulin, glucose and the stress hormone cortisol differed in men and women.”
Another study by Mayo Clinic researchers reports that moderate exercise such as brisk walking, aerobics, walking, strength training and swimming performed have beneficial effects that prevent mild cognitive impairment. When these exercises were performed at midlife, the likelihood of cognitive impairment is reduced by 39%. When performed later beyond middle age, the reduction is 32%. Unlike in the previous study, no differences between men and women were observed. Surprisingly, light exercises (dancing, golfing with a cart) and vigorous exercises (jogging, racquetball) do not seem to as beneficial in preventing mild cognitive impairment as moderate exercises.
So how does physical exercise slow down cognitive impairment?
Physical exercise may protect against mild cognitive impairment via the production of nerve-protecting compounds, greater blood flow to the brain, improved development and survival of neurons and the decreased risk of heart and blood vessel diseases.
Physical exercise may be a marker for a healthy lifestyle… A subject who engages in regular physical exercise may also show the same type of discipline in dietary habits, accident prevention, adherence to preventive intervention, compliance with medical care and similar health-promoting behaviors.