Physical exercise could help to reduce the effects of early dementia, a new study has indicated.
Research from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, reported in a new online issue of Neurology, found that sufferers of early dementia who exercised saw a small improvement on the test of overall thinking skills in comparison to those who did not.
The study involved 70 individuals with an average age of around 74, all of whom had mild vascular cognitive impairment. To analyse the effectiveness of physical activity, half of the participants took part in one-hour exercise classes three times a week for six months, whereas the remainder picked up information monthly regarding vascular cognitive impairment and no information related to physical activity.
As well as this, six months after participants stopped the exercise program, the scores were no different than those who did not previously exercise, suggesting that the positive effects of physical activity ended once participants became less active.
What else did the study teach us?
Along with cognitive improvements, better blood pressure and cardiovascular capacity was recorded, highlighting further potential benefits of exercise.
Study author Dr Teresa Liu-Ambrose, from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, said: “Studies have shown that exercise can help reduce the risk of developing memory problems, but few studies have looked at whether it can help people who already have these problems get better or keep from getting worse.”
“This result, while modest, was similar to that seen in previous studies testing the use of drugs for people with vascular cognitive impairment.”
She added that the difference was less than what is considered to be the minimal clinically important change of three points, indicating that more data will be required in order to follow up the findings.
Ms Liu-Ambrose explained that more studies are required to conclude if exercise can boost thinking abilities in people with mild vascular cognitive impairment.
As the study sample was focused on identifying a difference on the overall thinking skills test, large samples may be necessary to spot differences in particular thinking abilities, including planning and managing finances.
While the study is positive news, it’s clear that more needs to be done in order to back up the findings and investigate the data further.
If further research corroborates the idea that exercise can help symptoms of early dementia, it could lead to a significant medical breakthrough and change treatment across the world.