Exercise training alters brain blood flow and improves cognitive performance in older adults, though not in the way you might think. A new study published by University of Maryland School of Public Health researchers in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease showed that exercise was associated with improved brain function in a group of adults diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and a decrease in the blood flow in key brain regions.
“A reduction in blood flow may seem a little contrary to what you would assume happens after going on an exercise program,” explained Dr. J. Carson Smith, associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology. “But after 12-weeks of exercise, adults with MCI experienced decreases in cerebral blood flow. They simultaneously improved significantly in their scores on cognitive tests.”
Dr. Smith explains that for those beginning to experience subtle memory loss, the brain is in “crisis mode” and may try to compensate for the inability to function optimally by increasing cerebral blood flow. While elevated cerebral blood flow is usually considered beneficial to brain function, there is evidence to suggest it may actually be a harbinger of further memory loss in those diagnosed with MCI. The results of the study by Dr. Smith and his team suggest exercise may have the potential to reduce this compensatory blood flow and improve cognitive efficiency in those in the very early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease.