Walking can slow down dementia, says new research

Exercise slows cognitive decline in older people, according to a team of  neurologists.

The study involved 70 people with an average age of 74 with vascular dementia. This is the second most common type of dementia and causes problems with memory and thinking skills as a result of damage to large and small blood vessels in the brain.

Half of the participants took part in one-hour exercise classes three times a week for six months, while the other half received information each month about vascular cognitive impairment and a healthy diet, but no information on physical activity.

All of the participants were tested at the beginning and the end of the study and again six months later on their overall thinking skills, executive function skills such as planning and organizing and how well they could complete their daily activities. Those who exercised had a small improvement on the test of overall thinking skills compared to those who did not exercise. Six months after the participants stopped the exercise program, their scores were no different than those who did not exercise.

Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research and Development at Alzheimer’s Society said:

‘We already know keeping active, along with a balanced diet, is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of dementia. This study goes further, suggesting that frequent exercise provides modest improvements in memory and thinking for people who already have vascular dementia.’

‘Although this was a small study and the benefits of exercise didn’t help those involved with daily decision making or activities, it is promising to see researchers focussing on important issues around exercise. We need to know more about who it can benefit, what kind of exercise works, and how to encourage people to take it up and keep it up.’

‘Testing whether new research actually works in the real world is a key priority for Alzheimer’s Society and we fund researchers every day to do exactly that.’

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