Weekly exercise could help prevent dementia development, study shows

Why walking is beneficial to your health.

The study was conducted on patients who already had mild cognitive impairment

A recently published study shows that incorporating exercise more than once a week may help prevent mild cognitive impairment from developing into dementia.

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) leads to memory and thinking issues that are worse than normal for someone at a particular age. While the condition does not always lead to dementia, Alzheimer’s Association stated that people who have it are “more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias than people without MCI.”

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For the study, researchers used the National Health Insurance Service cohort of Korea from 2009 to 2015 to obtain electronic health record data of people diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment. On average, the 247,149 participants' ages were between 64 and 69. Researchers surveyed participants and asked how much they had exercised in the past seven days to measure physical activity.

Of the patients included in the study, 40% didn’t get regular exercise and 18% started exercising after their MCI diagnosis. Another 18% stopped exercising after being diagnosed and 23% exercised more than once per week prior to and following diagnosis.

By the time the follow-up period ended, 8.7% of patients who didn’t exercise were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease while only 4.8% of those who exercised more than once per week got the same diagnosis. Among the patients who started exercising after diagnosis, 6.3% ultimately developed Alzheimer’s while 7.7% of patients who stopped exercising after diagnosis developed the disease.

The findings, which were published last week in the open-access journal, “Alzheimer’s Research and Therapy,” showed that compared with people with MCI who also did not engage in physical activity, those who had moderate or vigorous exercise for a minimum of ten minutes more than once a week had an 18% lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Of that group, people with mild cognitive impairment who exercised three to five times weekly had a 15% lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease compared to those who exercised less than that.

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An 11% lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease was found among people with mild cognitive impairment who started exercising after their diagnosis compared to people who didn’t exercise altogether.

Not exercising before or after a mild cognitive impairment diagnosis was linked to the same risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease as ceasing exercise following the diagnosis.

“Our findings indicate that regular physical activity may protect against the conversion of mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer’s disease," corresponding author Hanna Cho said in a statement. "We suggest that regular exercise should be recommended to patients with mild cognitive impairment. Even if a person with mild cognitive impairment did not exercise regularly before their diagnosis, our results suggest that starting to exercise regularly after diagnosis could significantly lower their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.”

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