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Exercise Your Brain+ Elizabeth Cantrell, ND

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Research published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease suggests that exercise may be the key to improving brain function in those at risk for Alzheimer’s. In the study, inactive adults (aged 60 – 88 years) were divided into two groups and assigned to a 12-week moderate intensity exercise program focused on treadmill walking. One group consisted of adults diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment and the second group included adults with healthy brain function. At the end of the program both groups demonstrated an overall improvement in cognitive function. Measured improvements included better memory recall and greater neural efficiency. In addition both groups improved their overall cardiovascular fitness by about 10 percent.
Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a condition in which those affected experience difficulty in memory recall and other cognitive skills. The decline is usually not serious enough to impact daily life; however the changes are serious enough to be recognized by others. Adults with MCI are at an increased risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.
Study participants were given memory tests before and after the 12-week program. Functional neuroimaging scans (brain scans) were conducted during the memory assessments to observe the intensity of brain activity-how hard the brain had to work to perform the task. The scans revealed that the brain required greater activation-had to work harder- to perform memory tests before the exercise program than it did after the 12-weeks of exercise. Scans performed after the exercise program revealed less activation indicating better efficiency. The regions of the brain with better efficiency corresponded to those involved in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
These results suggest that an exercise program consistent with that which is already recommended for older adults is enough to improve neural efficiency. Currently, the recommended exercise guideline for older adults is 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week. If you find you are getting more forgetful it may be time to begin an exercise program.

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