How Aerobic Exercise Could Actually Improve Cognition With Those Suffering From Alzheimer’s

Science News

Over 5.5 million from the United States suffer from Alzheimer’s. This sad face has brought about concern from both doctors, patients, and affected families. Studies are continually being conducted in the hopes that a solution may be discovered.

At this point in time, many are hopeful. There are pieces of evidence that point to the importance of aerobic exercises when it comes to reducing the cognitive decline brought about by Alzheimer’s disease. A pilot study has been conducted and initial findings suggest this strongly. And it is with hope that further studies prove their hypothesis regarding the matter.


The Brains Behind It

Researchers in charge of the study on Alzheimer’s have found that aerobic exercises actually may reduce cognitive decline. The said research has been published as a pilot study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. In it, experts say that the findings support the belief that aerobic exercises can be an integral form of intervention for those suffering from Alzheimer’s. This research lays the foundation for future larger studies that will be conducted to corroborate what they found.


Alzheimer’s Treatments

According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurological disorder that’s unfortunately also irreversible. At its mildest form, it can affect the sufferer’s ability to think or remember details.

The moderate form of Alzheimer’s disease goes further by affecting the brain areas, which, in turn, impairs language, reasoning, sensory processing, and even conscious thought. As it progresses to its later stages, it does get more severe. At this point, the person is already unable to perform basic, menial tasks. They also lose the ability for cognition and communication with those that who surround them.

According to the experts in NIA, they have looked into the US population and have come up with a staggering number of over 5.5 million people who suffer from Alzheimer’s. The disease often shows signs in those in their mid-60s. The association also highlights the severity of the illness by saying that there is no known cure for it. Instead, treatments are more focused on easing the symptoms or slowing its progression. Not much further could be done other than those two.

There is a variety of drugs available in the market when it comes to treating Alzheimer’s disease. However, these do not seem to suffice. So, health experts have sought out ways for finding the possible  cure. In their efforts, they found that there is an emerging body of evidence that suggests how aerobic exercises may be effective when it comes to slowing its progression.

The authors of the present study noted and randomized controlled trials. Unfortunately, the findings have been inconsistent. As an answer to their dilemma, the present authors planned out and came up with a randomized controlled trial in their pilot study. They examined a group of older individuals with Alzheimer’s disease. They then studied whether or not there was a marked cognitive decline after six months of workout. They then compared their findings to those who haven’t done anything about the disease and allowed it to just naturally progress. The good news is that there was a difference, which gave them hope for the future.


Pilot Study

The pilot study had 96 participants who were 66 years or older, all suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. They then randomly split these participants into two groups. The first group had 64 participants who took part in supervised cycling exercise classes three times weekly for six months straight. The remaining 32 participants did supervised stretching and range of motion exercise classes.

After the set time, the health experts looked into cycling group in terms of the regularity of the exercises and length of time. All of the workout activities were done at low intensity. This second group acted as a control.

They consistently monitored the participants’ heart rates in the two groups. Furthermore, the research team also supported the cycling group to achieve 50 to 75 percent heart rate reserve while helping the control group maintain a less than 20 percent heart rate reserve.

Moreover, the scientists also measured the participants’ cognition at the very start of the intervention, as well as at months three, six, nine, and twelve. They did this vigilantly at a three-month interval.


How Exercise Reduced Cognitive Decline

The findings were quite impressive, to say the least. They saw that both the cycling group and the stretching or range of motion group scored remarkably well. They fared so much better had they continued with their normal activities.

The researchers behind the study made use of the Alzheimer’s Disease Assessment Scale-Cognitive Subscale. This is a scaling system where a bigger number is a reflection of declining cognition. According to this scale, the cycling group scored 1.0±4.6, and the control group 0.1±4.1 after six months of continuous and consistent exercise. They compared this to the 3.2±6.3 score, a value that’s in line with the natural progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

According to Prof. Fang Yu, Edson Chair in Dementia Translational Nursing Science at the Arizona State University Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation, and corresponding author of the study, “Our primary finding indicates that a 6-month aerobic exercise intervention significantly reduced cognitive decline in comparison to the natural course of changes for Alzheimer’s dementia. However, we did not find a superior effect of aerobic exercise to stretching, which is likely due to the pilot nature of our trial. We do not have the statistical power to detect between-group differences, there was a substantial social interaction effect in the stretching group, and many stretching participants did aerobic exercise on their own.”

Simply put, scientists need to conduct further studies and research to support the findings collected in the pilot study.