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Exercise Improves Cognition in At-Risk Older Adults

Exercise program leads to higher cognitive scores in subjects with memory impairment

TUESDAY, Sept. 2 (HealthDay News) -- In older adults with subjective memory impairment, a six-month program of physical activity may lead to modest improvements in cognition, suggesting that exercise may help prevent Alzheimer's disease, according to research published in the Sept. 3 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Nicola T. Lautenschlager, M.D., of the University of Melbourne, Australia, and colleagues randomly assigned 170 patients aged 50 and older to receive either a 24-week intervention that raised their physical activity by an average of 142 minutes per week or usual care. Of these subjects, 138 completed an 18-month assessment.

After 18 months, the researchers found that the exercise group's mean score on Alzheimer Disease Assessment Scale-Cognitive (ADAS-Cog) Subscale improved by 0.73 points compared to an improvement of 0.04 points in the usual care group. They also found that the exercise group showed modest improvements in word list delayed recall and Clinical Dementia Rating sum of boxes but not in word list total immediate recall, digit symbol coding, verbal fluency, Beck depression score, and Medical Outcomes 36-Item Short-Form physical and mental component summaries.

"The trial by Lautenschlager et al., using rigorous methods, makes the important contribution of 'proof of concept' by establishing that a relatively small dose of habitual exercise modestly improved cognition relative to placebo, and therefore has the potential to help prevent Alzheimer's disease. Although adherence to regular exercise -- despite its many known beneficial effects -- is among the lowest for any of the commonly recommended preventive health strategies, the widespread fear of Alzheimer's disease and other catastrophic brain diseases may help motivate older individuals and society to become more physically active," according to an accompanying editorial.

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