Older, elderly woman working out on stationary exercise bike

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TEMPE, Ariz. — Alzheimer’s disease can devastate any family as a loved one’s memory and connection to reality gradually fades over time. Of course, there’s no cure for the condition, but one study finds that exercise might help delay memory loss in patients. Researchers say that aerobic workouts such as cycling and stretching could help slow down its development among older people with the disease.

The study out of Arizona State University shows that patients who took part in a regular exercise program saw a significant reduction in cognitive decline. These promising findings support the idea of promoting cardiovascular fitness in people with Alzheimer’s to maintain a healthier memory.

“Our primary finding indicates that a six-month aerobic exercise intervention significantly reduced cognitive decline in comparison to the natural course of changes for Alzheimer’s dementia,” says study co-author Fang Yu, a professor with the university’s College of Nursing and Health Innovation, in a statement.

Yu led a pilot trial including 96 older people living with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. Participants were assigned to either a six month program involving cycling on stationary bike or a stretching techniques. The results were substantial, using the Alzheimer’s Disease Assessment Scale-Cognition (ADAS-Cog) to assess cognition.

When cycling and stretching, the six-month change was significantly less than the expected increase observed naturally with disease progression. Researchers believe their results are encouraging and support the clinical relevance of promoting aerobic exercise in people with Alzheimer’s dementia to maintain cognition.

“Aerobic exercise has a low profile of adverse events in older adults with Alzheimer’s dementia as demonstrated by our trial,” says Yu. “Regardless of its effect on cognition, the current collective evidence on its benefits supports the use of aerobic exercise as an additional therapy for Alzheimer’s disease. We didn’t find a superior effect of aerobic exercise to stretching, which is likely due to the pilot nature of our trial. We don’t have the statistical power to detect between-group differences, there was substantial social interaction effect in the stretching group, and many stretching participants did aerobic exercise on their own.”

The findings are published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

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