Exercise may help treat memory problems in adults, according to research that has emerged from Australia. The study found that a home-based physical activity program led to modest improvements in cognitive function in adults with memory difficulties.

The Study

The participants—138 people age 50 and older who had memory problems but didn't meet criteria for dementia—were randomly assigned to do a 24-week home-based physical activity program or to receive usual care.

Those in the exercise group were encouraged to do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week in three 50-minute sessions. Walking was the most frequently recommended type of activity. Participants in the exercise group did an average of 142 minutes more physical activity per week, or 20 minutes more per day, than those in the usual care group.

Over 18 months, participants in the exercise group had better Alzheimer Disease Assessment Scale-Cognitive (ADAS-Cog) scores and delayed recall, and lower Clinical Dementia Rating scores, than those in the usual care group. The ADAS-Cog consists of a number of cognitive tests.

The findings were published in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

“To our knowledge, this trial is the first to demonstrate that exercise improves cognitive function in older adults with subjective and objective mild cognitive impairment. The benefits of physical activity were apparent after six months and persisted for at least another 12 months after the intervention had been discontinued,” said Nicola T. Lauterischlager, MD, of the University of Melbourne.


“Unlike medication, which was found to have no significant effect on mild cognitive impairment at 36 months, physical activity has the advantage of health benefits that are not con-fined to cognitive function alone, as suggested by findings on depression, quality of life, falls, cardiovascular function and disability,” the researchers added.

They noted that the number of older adults with Alzheimer's disease (AD) could increase from the current 26.6 million to 106.2 million by 2050. If AD onset could be delayed by 12 months, there would be 9.2 million fewer cases of AD worldwide.

Expert Commentary

Exercise and other lifestyle factors may benefit older adults at risk for AD, said Eric B. Larson, MD, MPH, of the Group Health Center for Health Studies in Seattle.

“Health advances of the past century have led to more individuals surviving to extreme old age, when their risk of Alzheimer's disease and related dementias increases substantially," Dr. Larson added. "Exercise—and possibly other lifestyle factors—appears to affect vascular risk and late-life brain health.”

Prevent Falls with Push-Ups

Push-ups are excellent exercise for seniors. The ability to do them is more than an indicator of fitness—the exercise increases up-per-body strength, which helps protect against injury from falls.

Why: When people fall, they instinctively reach out to catch themselves in a manner similar to the push-up motion. Upper-body strength helps break the weight of a fall safely. Those who don't have the strength to do a push-up are at heightened risk of suffering a broken wrist or other injury in a fall—and of not being able to push or lift themselves up, even if not injured.

Fitness guideline: At age 60, men should be able to do 17 push-ups...women should he able to do six of them.

Memory Loss Linked to Low Levels of "Good" Cholesterol

When 3,673 men and women were fol-lowed for seven years, researchers found that those with low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) -good" cholesterol (less than 40 trig/dL) at age 60 were 53% more likely to experience memory loss than those with high HD!. levels (60 mg/dL or higher).

To increase HDL levels: Exercise regularly...do not consume trans fats...and replace saturated fats with monounsaturated Fats, such as olive oil, whenever possible.

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