The study, which was shared in the Journal for Alzheimer’s Disease Reports, compared elderly people with normal brain function to those with moderate cognitive impairment, which is a condition that causes a gradual deterioration in mental functions including memory, reasoning, and judgment and is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.
It showed that a 12-week walking fitness program improved memory recall in older adults with regular cognitive function as well as in those with mild cognitive impairment.
Post-exercise, the brain activity was greater and better coordinated, offering hope for preventing cognitive decline and maybe postponing the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
The connections inside and between 3 important brain networks were shown to be strengthened by walking, potentially enhancing brain health.
Following a 12-week walking regimen, participants’ story recall skills improved, illuminating the influence of exercise on cognitive function.
Exercise may act as a stabilizing or preventative treatment for patients with mild cognitive impairment, perhaps postponing the onset of Alzheimer’s dementia, according to the study.
Carson Smith, the main investigator of the study, says that “Historically, the brain networks we studied in this research show deterioration over time in people with mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease. They become disconnected, and as a result, people lose their ability to think clearly and remember things. We’re demonstrating that exercise training strengthens these connections.”
The research extends Smith’s earlier work, which shows how walking may reduce cerebral blood flow and enhance brain function in senior citizens with moderate cognitive impairment.
Thirty-three participants, aged 71 to 85, walked on a treadmill under supervision 4 days per week for a total period of 12 weeks.
Researchers asked the participants to read a short tale and then repeat it aloud while providing as many details as they could remember before and after this exercise program.
Additionally, participants received functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which allowed researchers to track modifications in the flow of information between and among the three brain networks that govern cognitive function:
The default mode network, which is linked to the hippocampus, one of the first areas in the brain to be harmed by Alzheimer’s disease, activates when a person is not engaged in a particular activity.
Additionally, tests reveal the presence of amyloid plaques, a leading candidate for Alzheimer’s disease that is present surrounding nerve cells.
Frontoparietal network: Controls choices made while performing a task.
Salience network: Determines what demands attention by keeping track of external stimuli and the environment around it.
In order to improve performance, it also makes switching between networks easier.
The ability of individuals to recall stories significantly improved after 12 weeks of exercise when the tests were retaken.
“The brain activity was stronger and more synchronized, demonstrating exercise actually can induce the brain’s ability to change and adapt. These results provide even more hope that exercise may be useful as a way to prevent or help stabilize people with mild cognitive impairment and maybe, over the long term, delay their conversion to Alzheimer’s dementia,” Smith said.
Additionally, the default mode network, the salience network, and the connections between the 3 networks all displayed increased activity, according to researchers.