Exercise Can Help Reverse Mild Cognitive Impairment

An established exercise regimen can help prevent chronic diseases such as depression, osteoporosis and heart disease. And now, a new study indicates that exercise is linked with improved brain function in a group of adults diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and a decreased blood flow in key brain regions.


The study, recently published by the University of Maryland School of Public health in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, indicated that almost counterintuitively, adults with MCI showed decreases in cerebral blood flow, yet simultaneously showed improved scores on cognitive testing. “A reduction in blood flow may seem a little contrary to what you would assume happens after going on an exercise program, said J. Carson Smith, PhD, an associate professor of Kinesiology in the University of Maryland School of Public Health. But, he explained, for adults starting to experience a subtle memory loss, the brain is in “crisis mode,” and may attempt to compensate for its inability to function optimally by increasing blood flow.

While augmented blood flow in the brain is typically thought to be beneficial to brain function, researchers have found evidence suggesting that it may actually foretell additional memory loss in adults diagnosed with MCI. Smith’s study results suggest that exercise may have the potential to reduce the compensatory blood flow and improve cognitive function in adults in the very early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. The study measured changes in cerebral blood flow in specific brain regions known to be involved in the development of Alzheimer’s disease, including the insula, which is involved in perception, motor control, self-awareness, and cognitive functioning; the anterior cingulate cortex, involved in decision making, anticipation, impulse control and emotion; and the inferior frontal gyrus, which is involved in language processing and speech.

Study findings indicated that for test subjects with MCI, the decreased cerebral blood flow in the left insula and in the left anterior cingulate cortex were strongly correlated with improved performance on a word association test used to assess memory and cognitive status. “Our findings provide evidence that exercise can improve brain function in people who already have cognitive decline,” Smith explained. “We are seeing that exercise can impact biomarkers of brain function in a way that might protect people by preventing or postponing the onset of dementia.”

A sedentary lifestyle is a leading cause of disability, according to the World Health Organization. It’s long been recognized that inactivity increases the risk of obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease. Likewise, it’s known that regular exercise makes the heart work more efficiently, lower blood glucose, reduce stress levels and even reduce arthritis-related pain. Adults with MCI

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