Increased Physical Activity is Linked to Improved Cognitive Functions

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According to a recent study from the University of Sydney, the gradual increment of muscle-strengthening activities can lead to better cognitive function. This analysis is based on a trial that includes the Study of Mental and Resistance Training (SMART) done on patients aged between 55-58 years old with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). People with MCI are more vulnerable to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.  

MCL is a strong indication that individuals will suffer from Alzheimer’s disease in the near future and nearly 80% of the elderly people suffering from MCI develop Alzheimer’s in the course of six years.

Significance of the Study

Results of the study are very significant considering increased cases of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease among the aging demographics. According to the annual report of Alzheimer’s Disease International, 47 million people are suffering from dementia worldwide and this number will be increased threefold by the mid of the century. Predicted figures for the US suggest that there will be 13.8 million citizens affected by Alzheimer’s by 2050.

It is also worth mentioning that the healthcare cost for patients with dementia is very high, making it imperative to find other preventive measures to increase the quality of a patient’s life. Therefore, finding a relation between increased physical activity and improved cognitive function will certainly help in alleviating the intense effects of these debilitating diseases.

This study examined 100 senior adults with MCI. Patients with MCI face slight cognitive difficulties that are not detrimental enough to hinder daily routines. These patients were divided into four sub-groups and assigned four types of activities:

  • Resistance exercise activity
  • Placebo resistance exercise
  • Cognitive training
  • Placebo cognitive training

Cognitive and both of the placebo activities did not result in cognitive improvement. However, the study concludes that there is a direct relationship between improved muscle strength and improved cognitive functions. Some previous studies have also shown a proportional link between increased physical activity and muscle strength. But this research assisted by the SMART trial has provided useful details about the exercises that can help in improving brain function. The trial lasted for six months in which the participants attended weightlifting sessions twice a week. With maintaining their peak strength at 80%, the weights used in the exercise were regularly increased, as their muscles got stronger with time.

According to the doctor leading the research team, including resistance exercise in the schedule of the elderly can result in a healthier aging population. However, it can only be effective if it is done on regular basis and integrated as a part of a lifestyle.

Exercise Assists Physiological Process Necessary to Avoid Cognitive Impairment

Even before the SMART trial research, studies have proven that physical exercise can help in improving brain function by assisting different physiological processes. Exercise helps in improving cardiovascular health and glucose regulation in the body and both in their optimal form are necessary to avoid the risk of cognitive diseases. Exercise can also help in even improving the brain functions such as selective attention, multitasking and planning.

Exercise can Increase the Size of Certain Brain Areas

Hippocampus is that area of the brain associated with the processing and retention of memories and especially long-term memories. With aging, it starts to shrink in size leading to cognitive impairment. Aerobic exercises have a proven role in increasing the size of the anterior part of the hippocampus. The fractional increment in size can improve the spatial memory of an individual.

What’s Next in the Research Line?

According to the researchers of a SMART trial study, it is still unclear that whether resistance exercises are directly influencing and decelerating the deteriorating effects of old age, or whether they are commanding some bodily functions that are helping the cognition improvement. New researchers will try to find the exact relation of increased muscle strength with cognitive activity. They will also study the effects of muscle strength on size and activity of certain brain areas.

All the researchers and studies that we have discussed in this article share the same conclusion that a healthy lifestyle with increased physical activity can reward aging people with a vigorous and active mindless prone to old age cognitive diseases.