Exercise May Help Reverse Neurodegeneration

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Exercise may help reverse neurodegeneration in older adults, according to research published in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society.

J. Carson Smith, PhD, an associate professor of kinesiology from the University of Maryland of Public Health and colleagues found that both healthy older adults and older adults with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) who improved their cardiorespiratory fitness through a moderate intensity exercise program increased the thickness of their brain’s cortex, the outer layer of the brain that typically atrophies with Alzheimer’s disease.

“Exercise may help to reverse neurodegeneration and the trend of brain shrinkage that we see in those with MCI and Alzheimer’s,” said Dr. Smith. “Many people think it is too late to intervene with exercise once a person shows symptoms of memory loss, but our data suggest that exercise may have a benefit in this early stage of cognitive decline.”

For the study, previously inactive adults between the ages of 61 and 88 were put on a regimen of walking at moderate intensity on a treadmill 4 times a week over a 12-week period. The researchers found that on average, the participants’ cardiorespiratory fitness improved by about 8%, and that the greater the fitness improvements, the more growth in the cortical layer.

Both groups showed strong associations between increased fitness and increased cortical thickness, but participants with MCI showed greater improvements in the left insula and superior temporal gyrus, two brain regions that have been shown to degenerate in Alzheimer’s. Participants also showed improvements in neural efficiency during memory recall.

Dr. Smith noted that he plans to conduct future studies that include more participants in longer-term exercise interventions to see if there are greater, lasting improvements over time. This would attempt to answer the key question of whether regular exercise could reverse or delay cognitive decline, allowing people to stay out of nursing homes and maintain their independence as they age.

Exercise May Help Reverse Neurodegeneration
Participants’ cardiorespiratory fitness improved by about 8%, and the greater the fitness improvements, the more growth in the cortical layer.

New research has found that older adults who improved their fitness through a moderate intensity exercise program increased the thickness of their brain's cortex, the outer layer of the brain that typically atrophies with Alzheimer's disease.

According to a new study from the University of Maryland School of Public Health, the improvements were found in both healthy older adults and those diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), an early stage of Alzheimer's disease.

“Exercise may help to reverse neurodegeneration and the trend of brain shrinkage that we see in those with MCI and Alzheimer's,” said Dr. J. Carson Smith, an associate professor of kinesiology and senior author of the study, published in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society.

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