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Posted: April 22, 2008

Regular Exercise While Aging Prevents Cognitive Decline: Study

Numerous studies have noted the health benefits of regular exercise as we age. Now, a Mayo Clinic study has found that regular physical exercise may help protect against mild cognitive impairment, a brain disorder that affects nerve cells used in thinking and often a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease.

Individuals with mild cognitive impairment can function reasonably well in everyday activities, but often have difficulty remembering details of conversations, events and upcoming appointments.

Most, but not all, patients with mild cognitive impairment develop a progressive decline in their thinking abilities over time. Alzheimer's disease is usually the underlying cause.

"While the benefits of exercise are well documented for improving overall health, this is one of the first studies to specifically look at whether it can help protect against the development of mild cognitive impairment," said Dr. Yonas Endale Geda, a Mayo Clinic neuron-psychiatrist and the study's lead investigator.

As part of the ongoing Mayo Clinic Study of Aging, Geda and a team of Mayo Clinic researchers randomly identified 868 individuals between the ages of 70 and 89. Of this total, 128 had mild cognitive impairment and 740 were cognitively normal.

The team conducted surveys to gather data on the individuals' physical exercise between the ages of 50 and 65 and one year prior to the survey. They found that moderate physical exercise two to five times per week during the ages of 50 to 65 was associated with a reduced risk of mild cognitive impairment. However, the individual's exercise habits one year prior to the survey did not appear to be associated with a reduced risk.

According to Geda, these findings need to be replicated in a prospective cohort study. Additionally, the study did not address how physical exercise could protect against mild cognitive impairment.

"Regarding the mechanism of action of physical exercise and mild cognitive impairment, we speculate that either exercise induces chemicals that protect brain cells, or exercise is simply a marker for an overall healthy lifestyle, or there is some positive interaction among exercise, healthy lifestyle and intellectually stimulating activity," Geda said.

(Article courtesy of

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