Exercising your body could have beneficial effects on your mind, according to a new recommendation from the American Academy of Neurology.
For people with mild cognitive impairment, a medical condition that commonly sets in as people age, the academy suggests that exercising twice a week can improve memory and thinking.
The symptoms of mild cognitive impairment lie on a spectrum between the expected cognitive decline of normal aging and dementia. Mild cognitive impairment can be an early sign of dementia, the academy said in a statement, though some people never get worse and others actually get better.
Mild cognitive impairment becomes more common with age. It affects more than 6 percent of people in their 60s and more than 37 percent of people 85 and older worldwide.
The recommendation, published Wednesday in the academy’s medical journal, Neurology, is an update to the academy’s previous guideline on the condition and is endorsed by the Alzheimer’s Association.
Researchers looked at 11,500 studies when writing the new guidelines. The strongest suggested 150 minutes of exercise weekly, said lead author Ronald C. Petersen, director of the Mayo Clinic’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and its long-term study of aging.
Smaller amounts of exercise also help — as long as you’re “doing more than what you’re doing right now,” he said in a telephone interview Wednesday.
For elderly people who have physical impairments, Petersen said, any amount of cardiovascular exercise, such as a brisk walk, could be beneficial.
“I don’t think we should discourage anybody if they can’t make it to 150 minutes a week,” he said. “Some older people do have physical limitations, and consequently, it’s a strain to do that amount.”
While the studies indicate that exercise can slow the rate that mild cognitive impairment sets in, there is no evidence so far to suggest it can lessen the effects, Petersen said.
The guideline also states that there are no medical treatments or dietary changes for the condition approved by the FDA that can improve thinking ability or delay memory problems.
Still, Petersen stressed the importance of staying physically active, as well as mentally and socially active, as it can improve the quality of life for people as they age.
“Aging need not be a passive process,” he said.