Jun 21, 2018

High-intensity exercise may not slow cognitive decline in dementia – but exercise still beneficial

Exercise doesn’t prevent the cognitive decline of people with dementia, according to new research from Oxford University.

Until now, the theory that exercise might slow the cognitive impairment of people living with dementia had “widespread popularity”, and doctors have recommended that people with dementia follow an exercise program to slow the progress of the condition.

However, there had been limited studies on humans to prove the hypothesis.

And now those theories are likely to be laid to rest.

Researchers from Oxford University studied 494 people living with mild-to-moderate dementia in community care facilities. The mean age of those studied was 77 years.

Of the 494 people studied, 329 were given a moderate-to-high intensity aerobic and strength exercise regime to follow for four months, while the remaining 165 continued with their usual care.

The subject’s cognitive performance was measured after six months and then again after twelve months.

The study found the exercise program actually worsened results in cognitive assessments, although only to a small degree.

The results did not differ according to Dementia type, gender, level of cognitive impairment, or mobility.

“Exercise cannot be recommended as a treatment”

“Moderate to high intensity aerobic and strength exercise cannot be recommended as a treatment option for cognitive impairment in dementia,” the scientists found.

Exercise could, in fact, “worsen cognitive impairment”, they said.

Fitness improved for those doing exercises

But there was some good news – the fitness of the participants who followed the exercise program improved over the course of the study. But that would not necessary translate into improvements in health-related quality of life or activities in daily living, the researchers said.

Exercise shows to lower odds of developing dementia

Though this latest research from Oxford University shows that exercise doesn’t prevent cognitive decline for people who are already living with dementia, research has been conducted to show that those who exercise have lower odds of developing of dementia.

A study of 7,501 people in China over nine years found that “Regular exercise was associated with decreased risk of dementia” and advising that “policy-makers should develop effective public health programmes and build exercise-friendly environments for the general public.”

Dementia Australia recommends that people living with dementia stay physically active because exercise:

  • Gives you energy
  • Helps you sleep
  • Helps you relax
  • You can meet people when you exercise
  • Tones your body
  • Reduces stress and anxiety
  • Improves self confidence
  • Helps to control weights, blood pressure, and bone and joint problems
  • Reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke, and some cancers

Dementia the leading cause of death among women in Australia

Dementia is the second leading cause of death in Australia, and the leading cause of death among females.

There are more than 425,000 people living with dementia in Australia today, and that figure is expected to rise to more than one million by 2056.

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