Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Exercise Improves Memory for Older Women

BMJ Group, Tuesday 12 January 2010 00.00 GMT
Article history

Exercise might improve mental sharpness for older people starting to suffer from memory loss, researchers say. However, the benefits were seen mainly in women, and required an intensive, six-month exercise programme.
What do we know already?

Researchers have hoped for some time that exercise might have positive effects for the brain, perhaps by improving blood flow. If the benefits were proven, exercise would be used as a way for older people to prevent memory loss, or even Alzheimer's disease.

So far, research shows that older people who are more active are less likely to have memory problems, but it may just be that healthier, mentally sharper people find it easier to get out and exercise. There have also been some promising animal studies.

In a new trial, researchers asked older adults with slight memory problems to complete a six-month, high-intensity aerobic exercise programme. People exercised for up to an hour, supervised by a trainer, four times a week. They were compared with a second group, who did a more relaxed set of stretching exercises. The average age was 70.
What does the new study say?

Women who exercised intensively improved more in tests looking at things like memory and verbal fluency, compared with women who just did stretching. The researchers don't say whether the improvements were large enough to make a difference in day-to-day life.

For men, there was no clear improvement in most of the tests, despite the fact that men's fitness levels had improved the same amount as the women.
How reliable are the findings?

The main problem with the study is that it's very small. It started with just 33 people in total, and four dropped out before the end. Studies with fewer people tend to be less reliable, especially when you're looking at treatments that only have a small effect.
Where does the study come from?

Several of the researchers were based at the University of Washington, in Seattle. The study appeared in Archives of Neurology, published by the American Medical Association.

Funding came from the US Department of Veterans Affairs, and from the Alzheimer's Association.
What does this mean for me?

The exercise programme used in the trial was quite strenuous. People had been carefully selected to be able to cope, but even so, four of the 23 people doing the intensive programme dropped out because of problems like chest or joint pain. So, it might be that not all older people would be able to complete this type of exercise programme.

The people in the study were aged between 55 and 85, and all had mild problems with their memory. So, we don't know if the results apply to healthy people, or to people with serious memory problems because of Alzheimer's disease.
What should I do now?

It's still too early to say what effects exercise has on how mentally sharp you are. But we know that exercise can protect your health and help keep you fit generally, so it makes sense to stay as active as your health allows. Government guidelines recommend about 30 minutes' exercise, five days a week.

No comments:

Post a Comment