Research: Exercise May Slow Dementia in Older Adults

Exercise May Slow Dementia

Exercise to improve memory and thinking for those with mild cognitive impairment.

For patients with mild cognitive impairment, don't be surprised if your doctor prescribes exercise rather than medication. There are already reasons to reduce sedentary behaviour, but in addition, exercise at least twice a week could be particularly beneficial for older adults who are between the expected cognitive decline of ageing and the more serious decline that occurs with dementia according to The American Academy of Neurology. This decline is known as mild cognitive cognitive impairment (MCI).

Symptoms of MCI include memory problems, language processing and issues with thinking and judgement, and can increase the risk of dementia caused by Alzheimer`s or other neurodegenerative disorders.

The results, published in the journal Neurology, showed that people with MCI did not get worse while others improved after they exercised for a 6-month period outweighing other interventions. For example, there are no drugs currently for MCI approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Dr. Ronald Petersen, lead author of the study and director of the Alzheimer's Disease Research Centre at the Mayo Clinic, recommends people to complete moderate-intensity aerobic exercise for 150 minutes a week; 30 minutes, five times or 50 minutes, three times. This could be a hike or slow-run.

"Exercising might slow down the rate at which you would progress from mild cognitive impairment to dementia, and may also improve memory." - Dr Peterson, lead author

The guideline did not recommend dietary changes or medications. The findings are based on six-monthly studies which found twice-weekly workouts could improve cognitive function. The evidence is stronger for physical activity than brain training. The findings are also endorsed by the Alzheimer's Association and build upon earlier studies.

More than six per cent of people in their 60s have mild cognitive impairment globally and the condition becomes more common with age, according to the American Academy of Neurology. More than 37 per cent of people 85 and older have it.

With such prevalence, finding lifestyle factors that may slow down the rate of cognitive impairment can make a big difference to individuals and society, according to Dr. Petersen. In effect pushing back cognitive impairment several years into the future and potentially stopping or reversing symptoms at the earliest stages of the disease.


  1. Ronald C. Petersen, Oscar Lopez, Melissa J. Armstrong, Thomas S.D. Getchius, Mary Ganguli, David Gloss, Gary S. Gronseth, Daniel Marson, Tamara Pringsheim, Gregory S. Day, Mark Sager, James Stevens, Alexander Rae-Grant, "Practice guideline update summary: Mild cognitive impairment.", Neurology, 2017;