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Take Your Brain for a Walk

We all have heard report after report about how we should stay active, especially as we grow older.  It builds endurance in general when we exercise for 30-45 minutes five times a week.  It helps prevent body muscle loss if we exercise regularly – the “use it or lose it” notion.  It can help stave off bone density loss if we exercise regularly, and we just feel better because exercise releases endorphins which are the “feel good” hormone of the body.  While you are thinking about all of that, exercise will help … that is, exercise will help you actually think!  Research recently reportedly by scientists from the University of British Columbia demonstrated that those who exercise just three times a week over a six month period scored substantially better on a measure call the Cognitive subscale of the Alzheimer’s Disease Assessment Scale (ADAS).

Notice I said “substantially” better on this scale.  We see a lot of studies that make it to the popular press that show differences between people who do X or Y or Z versus those who do not.  This study actually took the scientific approach and compared two different segments of a group of 70 people who already early signs of Alzheimer ’s disease.  That is, they demonstrated an measureable improvement in the subcortical ischemic vascular cognitive impairment among people who exercised those three times a week versus the other segment who did not.  The researchers point out that it would take a 3-point improvement on this scale to be statistically significant, and their measured difference was just less than two points.  But the non-exercise group was also receiving an educational program to stimulate them mentally plus normal care and they still fell behind on this scale.  Who would turn down a nearly two point improvement…not a slower rate of decline – an actual improvement.

The exercise group, however, did show significant improvement in their “6-Minute Walk Test” and their blood pressure.  So if you pick up the exercise program you can expect to be more fit, perhaps even lower your blood pressure medication needs.  Consider the cognitive improvement to be a bonus.  One of the researchers also comments on how exercise has “minimal side effects.” You cannot say that about too many medications.  I also see another hidden bonus in that with the added exercise, I can maybe have a portion of dessert.  Now that is statistically significant!

Charlotte Bishop is a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago.  Please email your questions to


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