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Aerobics improves cognitive, motor functions in seniors with cognitive impairment

Audrey Abella
15 Aug 2018

Supervised aerobic-strength training improved cognitive and motor functions among elderly individuals with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), according to studies presented at AAIC 2018.

In the first study, researchers evaluated the impact of physical activity on cognition and brain morphology in 109 participants (mean age 68.1 years, 65 percent female, n=67 with MCI) who were either sedentary or physically active (n=68 and 41, respectively). Of these, 64 individuals underwent a thrice-weekly, one-hour supervised aerobic-strength training regimen for 3 months. [AAIC 2018, abstract 24924]

Compared with sedentary participants, physically-active individuals achieved higher visual learning score (p=0.035) and displayed larger volume of brain areas involved in cognitive functioning (p<0.01).

Aerobic-strength training in participants with MCI resulted in improved memory (19.6 percent; p=0.002), visual learning (10.4 percent; p=0.058), reaction time (-27.1 percent; p=0.002), and gait speed (10.2 percent; p=0.007) which, according to the researchers, reflect the potential of regular exercise in the prevention or treatment of age-related cognitive decline.

In the pilot REACH* study, 6-month aerobic training led to cognitive improvements in 23 individuals with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease (AD, mean age 64.5 years, 52.2 percent women). [AAIC 2018, abstract 25600]

Compared with controls, participants who performed aerobic exercise experienced greater improvements in VO2 peak (p=0.018) and on a Color-Word Interference (CWI) test (p=0.022), and more thinning of the superior parietal cortex (p=0.044).

Overall, the greater percentage increase in VO2 peak was significantly related to thickening of the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC; p=0.011), CWI improvement (p=0.037), and increased fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) uptake in the PCC (p=0.016).

“Elevating VO2 peak may enhance cognition, maintain PCC thickness, and improve FDG uptake,” said the REACH researchers, who recommended larger and more definitive studies to further elucidate the findings.

 

Combined physical, mental exercise

In another study, exergaming (physical exercise and mentally challenging tasks combined in a single session) and aerobic exercise appeared to improve psychomotor speed in a cohort of 115 community-dwelling patients with mild-to-moderate dementia (mean age 79.2 years). Participants were randomized to undergo 30-minute sessions of aerobic training, exergaming, or relaxation and flexibility exercises (control group) thrice weekly for 12 weeks. [AAIC 2018, abstract 24479]

Overall, there was a high rate of intervention adherence (84.6 percent) and training sessions were positively rated on a scale of 1–10 (8.2). However, exergaming had higher adherence and lower dropout rates when compared against aerobic training (87.3 percent vs 81.1 percent and n=11 vs 13, respectively).

Nonetheless, both exergaming and aerobic training led to improvement in psychomotor speed vs the control exercises (mean difference domain scores, 0.56, 95 percent confidence interval [CI], 0.01–1.13; p=0.047 and 0.64, 95 percent CI, 0.76–1.21; p=0.021, respectively).

The results provide insight on the potential of exergaming and aerobic exercise as nonpharmacological interventions to delay cognitive decline, said the researchers. Exergaming should be further investigated in future trials given its high adherence rate and benefits on processing speed, they added.

 

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