Aerobic Exercise May Reduce the Risk of Dementia

Any exercise that gets the heart pumping may reduce the risk of dementia and slow the condition’s progression once it starts, reported a Mayo Clinic study published this month in Mayo Clinic Proceedings. Researchers examined the role of aerobic exercise in preserving cognitive abilities and concluded that it should not be overlooked as an important therapy against dementia.

The researchers broadly defined exercise as enough aerobic physical activity to raise the heart rate and increase the body’s need for oxygen. Examples include walking, gym workouts, and activities at home such as gardening, shoveling snow, or raking leaves.

“We culled through all the scientific literature we could find on the subject of exercise and cognition, including animal studies and observational studies. We attempted to put together a balanced view of the subject,” says J. Eric Ahlskog, MD., PhD, a neurologist at Mayo Clinic. “We concluded that you can make a very compelling argument for exercise as a disease-modifying strategy to prevent dementia and mild cognitive impairment, and for favorably modifying these processes once they have developed.”

More research is needed on the relationship between exercise and cognitive function, the study’s authors say, but they encourage exercise, in general, especially for those with or worried about cognitive issues.

“Whether addressing our patients in primary care or neurology clinics, we should continue to encourage exercise for not only general health, but also cognitive health,” Dr. Ahlskog says.