Can exercise prevent memory loss and improve cognitive function?

Answers from Ronald Petersen, M.D.

Yes, it might. Exercise has many known benefits, including reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, strengthening the bones and muscles, and reducing stress. It also appears that regular physical activity benefits the brain. Studies show that people who are physically active are less likely to experience a decline in their mental function and have a lowered risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

Exercising several times a week for 30 to 60 minutes may:

  • Keep thinking, reasoning and learning skills sharp for healthy individuals
  • Improve memory, reasoning, judgment and thinking skills (cognitive function) for people with mild Alzheimer's disease or mild cognitive impairment
  • Delay the start of Alzheimer's for people at risk of developing the disease or slow the progress of the disease

Physical activity seems to help the brain not only by keeping your blood flowing. It also increases chemicals that protect the brain and tends to counter some of the natural reduction in brain connections that occurs with aging.

More research is needed to know to what degree adding physical activity improves memory or slows the progression of cognitive decline. Nonetheless, regular exercise is important to stay physically and mentally fit.

With

Ronald Petersen, M.D.

Dec. 20, 2011