Brain exercise
© BETA Blog
Worried your shoddy memory could lead to dementia? Breaking a sweat a few times a week might just be the easiest way to sharpen your mind and prevent the condition.

A new guideline released by the American Academy of Neurology and authored by a top Alzheimer's researcher from the Mayo Clinic says people diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) can improve their memory and thinking ability by exercising twice a week. Doctors should incorporate an exercise regimen into the treatment program in place for managing symptoms.

MCI, a common ailment that occurs with aging, causes people to have noticeable trouble with executive functions like memory, reading comprehension, and judgment, but is not nearly as serious as dementia, in which patients often struggle with simple everyday tasks.

Still, MCI is considered an "intermediate stage" between normal cognitive decline and dementia, and may very well eventually lead to the more debilitating condition. That's why researchers say the new guideline is especially crucial for people with MCI.

"Exercising might slow down the rate at which you would progress from mild cognitive impairment to dementia," says lead author Dr. Ronald C. Petersen, director of the Mayo Clinic's Alzheimer's Disease Research Center and Study of Aging, in a Mayo release.

The guideline, which updates a 2001 recommendation, comes after a six-month study suggests patients who worked out at least twice a week showed marked improvement in areas slowed by MCI. Petersen says 150 minutes of aerobic exercise - power walking or jogging, for example - per week was most ideal for patients, whether broken down into three 50-minute sessions or five 30-minute sessions.

"It's exciting that exercise may help improve memory at this stage, as it's something most people can do and of course it has overall health benefits," adds Petersen in an American Academy of Neurology release.

Petersen's findings also mention that cognitive training - games or brain teasers that tap into memory and reasoning - can also help with symptoms. There were no additional suggestions in terms of diet or medication for MCI patients.

MCI affects about 6 percent of people in their 60s worldwide, and more than 37 percent of people over 85. Because risk for the condition increases with age, Petersen says the new guideline can help slow the onset.

"We need not look at aging as a passive process; we can do something about the course of our aging," he says. "So if I'm destined to become cognitively impaired at age 72, I can exercise and push that back to 75 or 78. That's a big deal."

The research was published this week in the online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.