Can Physical Activity Contribute to Improved Cognitive Function? - European Medical Journal

Can Physical Activity Contribute to Improved Cognitive Function?

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A NOVEL study has demonstrated that a 35% increase in physical activity can improve cognition and memory in elderly individuals. Dementia includes several conditions which can result in impaired memory, cognitive skills, and physical activity. Previous clinical studies and meta-analyses has left questions about whether there is a positive association between physical activity and cognitive improvement, with different studies showing contrasting results. Researchers in the current study investigated whether a 35% increase in physical activity would lead to an improvement in physical fitness, cognitive function, and overall wellbeing of healthy elderly individuals with a low level of physical activity.  

The trial lasted 9 months and enrolled 102 participants who were randomly categorised into two groups: intervention and control. The intervention group were prescribed the COACH method, including seven coaching sessions over 6 months, which aimed to increase low-to-moderate intensity physical activity using a pedometer-based exercise counselling strategy. The control group were given the STRETCH method, which was composed of guided muscle stretching sessions for a 6-month period. The trial aimed to assess physical and cognitive function, as well as analyse cardiovascular risk factor profile, daily-lifestyle activities, frailty, and mental health.  

The trial found that in the intervention group, limitations in daily life decreased among participants and mental health improved compared to those in the control group. However, no significant changes to self-reporting of physical activity, fitness, or cognitive ability were reported observed in the intervention group. Furthermore, intervention had no significant impact on frailty, depression symptoms, or overall mental health.

A second comparison was carried out to analyse participants who did or did not achieve the intended improved physical activity of 35% or more. The participants who did achieve this tended to be younger, with higher levels of cognitive activity at baseline. A 35% increase in physical activity over 9 months or more was found to significantly improve aerobic capacity, walking speed, global cognition, executive functioning, and verbal memory. Additional subgroup analysis indicated that this increase in physical activity may improve the function amongst apolipoprotein –ε4 allele carriers more than non-carriers. Carriers of this allele are at greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. 


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