New US guidelines for people with cognitive impairment recommend aerobic exercise to improve memory and thinking.
Mild cognitive impairment is an intermediate stage between the expected cognitive decline of normal aging and the more serious decline of dementia. Symptoms can involve problems with memory, language, thinking and judgment that are greater than normal age-related changes.
Generally, these changes arenʼt severe enough to significantly interfere with day-to-day life and usual activities. However, mild cognitive impairment may increase the risk of later progressing to dementia caused by Alzheimerʼs disease or other neurological conditions. But some people with mild cognitive impairment never get worse, and a few eventually get better.
The guidelines ask doctors to encourage 150 minutes of aerobic exercise a week – 30 minutes, five times or 50 minutes, three times. The level of exertion should be enough to work up a bit of a sweat but doesn't need to be so rigorous that you can't hold a conversation.
The recommendations come from the American Academy of Neurology after reviewing all available studies.
"Regular physical exercise has long been shown to have heart health benefits, and now we can say exercise also may help improve memory for people with mild cognitive impairment," says Ronald Petersen, M.D., Ph.D., lead author, director of the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, Mayo Clinic, and the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging.
"What's good for your heart can be good for your brain." Dr. Petersen is the Cora Kanow Professor of Alzheimer's Disease Research.
"We need not look at aging as a passive process; we can do something about the course of our aging," he says. "So if I'm destined to become cognitively impaired at age 72, I can exercise and push that back to 75 or 78. That's a big deal."