(NaturalNews) It's common knowledge that exercise is good for the body. Regular exercise aids in reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke, among other important benefits. New research now shows, though, that exercise can prove to be a very vital factor in the lessening or prevention of cognitive impairment.
Doctors at the University of Lisbon in Portugal organized a study of over 600 participants between the ages of 65 to 84. Each of the participants' brains showed early warning signs of dementia, but none of them had debilitation in their daily lives, and they all lived independently. The researchers followed the subjects over a period of three years. During that time, the participants had their brain scanned on a regular basis. They were assessed on their cognitive ability, and they reported how often and how much they exercised.
The results showed that the participants who reported doing 30 minutes of exercise at least three times per week had about a 40 percent lower risk of developing dementia in comparison to those who reported less activity. During the three years of the study, 90 subjects developed dementia.
"Dementia" is a term that describes multiple types of mental disability. The most common mental disability is Alzheimer's. In this study, the exercise-to-cognitive-function association was strongest for vascular dementia, which is a type of non-Alzheimer's dementia that is caused by inadequate blood flow to the brain. While exercise showed a reduction in the risk for vascular dementia by almost 60 percent, physical activity didn't seem to specifically affect the risk of developing Alzheimer's.
The doctors performing the study also took MRI scans of their subjects to look for changes in the white matter of the participants' brains, which is linked to dementia. All of the participants showed changes of white matter at the beginning of the study in varying degrees. Researchers made sure to take into account other factors that can affect memory and cognitive function, like age, history of stroke, and diabetes. However, they found that even in taking in these other factors, the protective effects of exercise still held.
There were 34 cases in the study whose findings didn't hold. These participants showed signs of Alzheimer's, and in their cases, exercise was not correlated to their rates of mental decline.
It was noted by the professionals that, before starting an exercise program, patients should discuss their plans and get clearance from their doctors. A new exercise program should begin in a gradual manner, especially for those with heart problems. But even if physical activity doesn't delay mental decline, it's still a win-win, as it has many other important health benefits that shouldn't be overlooked.