Exercise is known to reduce the risk of suffering Alzheimer's disease, but it also brings reliably greater benefits to Alzheimer's patients than any presently available medical technology. Exercise is in general very beneficial for elderly people, all too few of whom undertake enough exercise these days. The future of medical science will ultimately make lifestyle choices such as a calorie restricted diet and regular moderate exercise irrelevant as determinants of health and longevity, but for now they are the best available option to slow degeneration and improve long-term health.
New research [shows] that exercise may improve cognitive function in those at risk for Alzheimer's by improving the efficiency of brain activity associated with memory. Memory loss leading to Alzheimer's disease is one of the greatest fears among older Americans. While some memory loss is normal and to be expected as we age, a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment, or MCI, signals more substantial memory loss and a greater risk for Alzheimer's, for which there currently is no cure. The study [is] the first to show that an exercise intervention with older adults with mild cognitive impairment (average age 78) improved not only memory recall, but also brain function, as measured by functional neuroimaging (via fMRI).
Two groups of physically inactive older adults (ranging from 60-88 years old) were put on a 12-week exercise program that focused on regular treadmill walking and was guided by a personal trainer. Both groups - one which included adults with MCI and the other with healthy brain function - improved their cardiovascular fitness by about ten percent at the end of the intervention. More notably, both groups also improved their memory performance and showed enhanced neural efficiency while engaged in memory retrieval tasks.
Tests and imaging were performed both before and after the 12-week exercise intervention. Brain scans taken after the exercise intervention showed a significant decrease in the intensity of brain activation in eleven brain regions while participants correctly identified famous names. The brain regions with improved efficiency corresponded to those involved in the pathology of Alzheimer's disease, including the precuneus region, the temporal lobe, and the parahippocampal gyrus.