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Moderate Exercise May Reduce Brain Atrophy in Adults With Cognitive Impairment

Cortical atrophy is a biomarker of Alzheimer’s disease. A recent study suggests that following a moderate intensity exercise program may help increase the thickness of the brain’s cortex in mature healthy adults and in those with mild cognitive decline.


Participants in the study included thirty physically inactive adults between the ages of 61 and 88. Fourteen of them were diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment and the other 16 acted as healthy controls. Over the course of 12 weeks, all of the participants took part in a moderate intensity walking intervention. They were also given an MRI at the onset and conclusion of the study in order to measure brain size.


After the exercise period, the researchers found that the participants — both those with mild cognitive impairment and those without — who had the most fitness improvements had the greatest growth in the cortical layer. The participants with mild cognitive impairment had even greater improvements than the healthy participants, particularly in the left insula and superior temporal gyrus, two areas that have been shown to degenerate faster in people with Alzheimer’s.


Additionally, the participants showed improvements in neural efficiency during mental recall. This finding adds to the science showing that exercise can have a positive effect on cognitive function.


Researchers from the University of Maryland School of Public Health conducted the study. It was published in the November 2015 issue of the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society.


Previous clinical studies suggest that even moderate exercise can reduce your risk of dying prematurely, help with blood sugar control, reduce body weight, improve heart health and improve respiratory health.

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