Regular exercise may help slow down dementia, a new study in the journal Neurology reports. Although there are many things that are not known about dementia, researchers do know that it does not happen all at once. Rather, it slowly builds over time. As a result, while there is currently no way to reverse it, people can take steps to slow down its progression.
In the new research, the American Academy of Neurology issued guidelines that explain how patients who are starting to see signs of cognitive decline can slow down negative symptoms. Of those, exercise appears to be one of the most important.
The guidelines state that people should exercise roughly 150 minutes, or 2 times, a week. However, that forgetfulness — known as mild cognitive impairment (MCI) — occurs far before full-blown dementia sets in. These new rules are to help people in that area, and give them a chance to stave off more serious problems.
To create the new guidelines, which recommend cognitive training and avoiding medication that can lead to confusion or cognitive impairment, the team looked over hundreds of different research studies. Overall, the trials showed that older people who exercised had significant cognitive improvement. While exercising can be difficult for people over 65, all it takes is some light aerobic exercise or walking.
Researchers are not currently sure how exercise might help stave off dementia. However, they believe it could be beneficial because working out helps blood flow to parts of the brain that dementia commonly restricts. Past research has also found hat combining exercise with mental games or cognitive training might lead to improvement as well.
The team hopes the guidelines will help primary care doctors better understand how to handle patients with MCI. Studying the stages of cognitive decline could be helpful for learning how to treat different forms of dementia as well.