Staying active and exercising is one of the core "habits" we recommend to our patients with Mild Cognitive Impairment in the HABIT Healthy Action to Benefit Independence and Thinking ® program at Mayo Clinic. There has been a recent research publication that underscores even more the importance of movement, including in patients who are experiencing cognitive impairment and who's brains may be developing abnormalities within or between brain cells.
Perhaps some of you heard this report on NPR's All Things Considered, which offers a very nice summary of the study and its implications. I'd encourage you to read the article or have a listen!
In short, Dr. Aron Buchman from Rush University studied the brains of individuals who had agreed to donate them at death after being part of a long term observational study. You can read the full research article here. Encouragingly, higher total daily activity (moving around in all ways) and better physical mobility were associated with better cognition. What is very exciting is that this relationship remained even when considering that someone's brain may be showing signs of Alzheimer's disease or other abnormality. That is, those who were more active showed better cognition even if brain abnormality was present.
This is certainly encouraging! However, one caution is that this study was observational, meaning people did whatever came naturally to them, and not an intervention (meaning people were not instructed to be active or not to see what the impact was on their cognitive status). Thus, there may be something different about people's brains who are naturally more active that also relates to cognitive strength that is the cause. This study does not prove that the fact that people were more active caused their better cognition. However, it certainly adds to the evidence that exercise has a direct impact on brain and cognitive health and resulting daily functioning AND that this link is likely for our patients who have already been diagnosed with a cognitive abnormality like Mild Cognitive Impairment.
We hope this will be just one more encouragement to keep moving!