Controversy is no stranger to the health field. (Or is it the health field that’s no stranger to controversy?) What was true science-based fact yesterday can be turned upside-down today. Such seems to be the case when it comes to exercise and brain health and, particularly, dementia. A recent study shows that moderate to high-intensity exercise does not slow dementia.
Dementia is every older person’s worst nightmare. Age-related or degenerative dementia is a condition of the brain, that robs one of cognitive function and affects one’s personality, social skills, memory, judgment, and reasoning.
One of the ways suggested to slow down dementia, or Alzheimer’s in general, is physical activity. This is because some studies have shown that physical activity may promote healthy brain when older.
According to the recent study, however, exercise may not be as effective in slowing dementia as previously thought. Does this mean that exercise doesn’t help? We’ll attempt to answer the question shortly.
The study, published in the BMJ journal, involved the 494 people of average age 77 years with mild to moderate dementia. The participants were randomly assigned to an aerobic and strength training program (329) or usual care (165).
General health and fitness were assessed at the beginning of the study. After 12 months, participants were assessed according to a commonly used Alzheimer’s disease assessment score (ADAS-Cog). The researchers found that while fitness improved in the exercise group, outcomes such as falls and quality of life didn’t change.
So, Should You Exercise to Avoid or Slow Dementia?
First, the researchers admit that the study had certain flaws to begin with. For one, the participants knew which group they were in. Secondly, it was relatively short – longer studies may be required for a more accurate assessment. Supervision of participants was also insufficient. The ratio of exercise to non-exercise group (329:165) was also rather lopsided, if you ask me.
In my opinion, what the study shows is that exercise may not slow dementia once the condition has started. All participants already had dementia to a certain degree at the beginning of the study.
Numerous studies have shown that exercise has benefits for the body as well as the brain. I choose to go with those.