Health In Focus
  • With increasing age, there is a decline in cognitive function, which refers to a decreased ability to think independently, concentrate, understand the situation and make decisions as well as memory issues etc
  • Regular aerobic exercise for just six months in the form of walking or cycling for about 35 minutes a day for thrice a week demonstrated significant improvement of brain function

Regular aerobic exercise can significantly help slow down the decline in brain function of elderly persons compared to those who did not exercise, as per a recent study conducted at the Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina.
Exercise Helps Improve Brain Function in Elderly

The findings of the study appear in the online edition of Neurology, the journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Design of the Study to Analyze Role of Exercise on Brain Function

  • The study enlisted 160 persons with an average age of 65 years and had risk factors for vascular and heart disease such as hypertension and diabetes and were sedentary at the start of the study. The participants reported problems with thinking and memory issues which were not severe enough to be termed dementia.
  • The study team wanted to analyze the role of exercise and a healthy diet namely the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet which is low in sodium, fiber-rich with plenty of fruits and vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts, low fat dairy products, and lean meats.
  • All the volunteers were randomly assigned to one of four groups namely
    • DASH diet alone
    • Aerobic exercise alone
    • Combination of exercise and DASH diet
    • Health education only with no intervention in the form of weekly or fortnightly phone calls
  • Persons in the exercise group exercised thrice weekly, each session lasting for 45 minutes which included 10 minutes of warm-up exercises followed by 35 minutes of aerobic exercise such as walking, jogging, or riding a stationary bicycle
  • At the start of the study and its completion after six months,
    • Brain function of the participants was assessed by standard tests of cognitive function
    • Cardiorespiratory fitness was assessed by the treadmill stress test
    • Risk factors of heart disease was determined by measurement of blood pressure blood glucose and serum cholesterol levels.
    • The participants were instructed to maintain a food diary and also answered questionnaires to see how closely they followed the DASH diet.

Effects of Exercise on Cognitive Decline in Elderly

  • The cognitive function such as thinking and concentration, capacity to understand and achieve goals of participants who exercised improved significantly when compared to those who did not exercise
  • There was no significant change in memory of the participants of all four groups
  • Participants doing regular exercise as well as taking DASH diet had average scores of 47 points on the overall cognitive function test scores, compared to an average score of about 42 points for participants assigned to either exercise or diet alone and about 38 points for those who were only given health education
  • On comparing the pre and post-study scores, persons who took DASH diet alone did not show significant improvement but persons who exercised and ate the DASH diet showed significantly more improvement compared to health education controls
The findings of the study suggest that adding regular exercise to a person's lifestyle may be extremely beneficial in terms of the slowing decline of brain function and improving cognition

"The results are encouraging in that in just six months, by adding regular exercise to their lives, people who have cognitive impairments without dementia may improve their ability to plan and complete certain cognitive tasks," said study author James A. Blumenthal, PhD, of Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C.

Potential Limitations of Study

  • Size of study fairly small to conclusively state that combination of exercise and DASH diet offers greater benefit than exercise alone
  • Further larger studies with longer periods of patient monitoring are necessary to see if the improvements in brain function continue and whether the benefits are greater with multiple approaches such as diet and exercise


In conclusion, the study underscores the benefit of exercise in improving brain function in addition to the numerous other benefits such as significant improvement in physical, emotional health and well being.

Reference :

Source: Medindia

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