Public Release: 

Aerobic exercise may mildly delay, slightly improve Alzheimer's symptoms

American Geriatrics Society

Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a brain disorder that destroys memory and thinking skills over time. It is the most common form of dementia in older adults. There is presently no cure for the condition, though treatment options are available. Today, some 5.3 million Americans live with AD, and it is now the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. The number of older adults who will develop AD is expected to more than triple by 2050.

Geriatrics experts have suggested that exercising can improve brain health in older adults. The World Health Organization (WHO) has recommendations for how much older adults should exercise. They suggest that older adults perform 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise (such as brisk walking), 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic training, or a combination of the two types. The WHO also recommends older adults perform muscle-strengthening exercises on at least two or more days a week.

However, not all studies of exercise and older adults have proven the benefits of exercise. We don't know for sure whether exercise slows mental decline or improves older adults' ability to think and make decisions.

A team of researchers designed a study to learn whether exercise could delay or improve AD symptoms. They reviewed 19 studies that examined the effect of an exercise training program on cognitive function in older adults who were at risk for or diagnosed with AD. The studies included 1,145 older adults, most of whom were in their mid-to late 70s. Of the participants, 65 percent were at risk for AD and 35 percent had been diagnosed with AD.

The researchers published their findings in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

As the researchers examined the studies, they discovered that older adults who did aerobic exercise by itself experienced a three times greater level of improvement in cognitive function than those who participated in combined aerobic training and strength training exercises. The researchers also confirmed that the amount of exercise WHO recommends for older adults was reinforced by the studies they examined.

Finally, the researchers found that older adults in the no-exercise control groups in the studies faced declines in cognitive function. Meanwhile, the older adults who exercised showed small improvements in cognitive function no matter what type of exercise they did.

The research team concluded that this study may be the first to show that for older adults who are at risk for or who have AD, aerobic exercise may be more effective than other types of exercise in preserving the ability to think and make decisions.

The researchers note that their findings need to be confirmed in future studies.

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This summary is from "Can Exercise Improve Cognitive Symptoms of Alzheimer's Dementia? A Meta-Analysis ". It appears online ahead of print in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The study authors are Gregory A. Panza, MS; Beth A. Taylor, PhD; Hayley V. MacDonald, PhD; Blair T. Johnson, PhD; Amanda L. Zaleski, MS; Jill Livingston, MS; Paul D. Thompson, MD; and Linda S. Pescatello, PhD.

About the Health in Aging Foundation

This research summary was developed as a public education tool by the Health in Aging Foundation. The Foundation is a national non-profit established in 1999 by the American Geriatrics Society to bring the knowledge and expertise of geriatrics healthcare professionals to the public. We are committed to ensuring that people are empowered to advocate for high-quality care by providing them with trustworthy information and reliable resources. Last year, we reached nearly 1 million people with our resources through HealthinAging.org. We also help nurture current and future geriatrics leaders by supporting opportunities to attend educational events and increase exposure to principles of excellence on caring for older adults. For more information or to support the Foundation's work, visit http://www.HealthinAgingFoundation.org.

About the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society

Included in more than 9,000 library collections around the world, the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (JAGS) highlights emerging insights on principles of aging, approaches to older patients, geriatric syndromes, geriatric psychiatry, and geriatric diseases and disorders. First published in 1953, JAGS is now one of the oldest and most impactful publications on gerontology and geriatrics, according to ISI Journal Citation Reports®. Visit wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/JGS for more details.

About the American Geriatrics Society

Founded in 1942, the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) is a nationwide, not-for-profit society of geriatrics healthcare professionals that has--for 75 years--worked to improve the health, independence, and quality of life of older people. Its nearly 6,000 members include geriatricians, geriatric nurses, social workers, family practitioners, physician assistants, pharmacists, and internists. The Society provides leadership to healthcare professionals, policymakers, and the public by implementing and advocating for programs in patient care, research, professional and public education, and public policy. For more information, visit AmericanGeriatrics.org.

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