Why you CAN’T jog your memory: Experts say there’s no real evidence that regular exercise can stave off dementia
It may be good for your body.
But there is little evidence regular exercise helps stave off Alzheimer’s, according to scientists.
In the last few decades, research has indicated exercise is beneficial for the brain and cognitive performance.
This has influenced public health policies, with some institutions recommending regular physical activity to help maintain healthy memory, perception, thinking and reasoning skills.
But an umbrella review of hundreds of studies suggests there is ‘little evidence’ for a positive relationship between regular physical exercise and improved cognition in healthy people.
In the last few decades, research has indicated that exercise is beneficial for the brain and cognitive performance
Researchers from the University of Granada focused on 109 studies that involved more than 11,000 healthy participants.
Analysis showed that – while it’s not suggested exercise is bad for your brain – ‘robust causal evidence’ is lacking to support the claim it benefits brain health.
They said initial small, positive effects of physical exercise on cognition disappeared after accounting for potential moderators.
These moderators could be, for example, different exercise types included in the studies, a wide age range or measuring different outcomes.
Writing in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, they said the benefits of exercise – especially with regards to physical health – are still enough to justify policies that promote its regular application in people’s everyday lives.
‘Further, engaging in physical exercise brings not only physical but also social benefits, as we connect with others by forging social bonds and participating in collective activities that give us a sense of belonging,’ they added.
‘Lastly, let us not forget the pleasure of doing something for its own sake. The value of exercising may lie simply in its enjoyable nature.’
Commenting on the study Eef Hogervorst, Professor of Psychology at Loughborough University, said: ‘The findings suggest that the effect of physical exercise training on improving cognition is small, and this small effect becomes even more ineffective with some key moderators.
‘The findings of this study are unexpected, as the current literature reveals a strong link between exercise and cognition, which can be supported by the results of most meta-analyses included in the review.
‘Moreover, previous studies have reported that exercise reduces the risk of dementia characterised by cognitive decline.
‘In conclusion, the paper provides a thought-provoking insight into the effectiveness of physical exercise on cognition.
‘It is important to note that the findings should be interpreted cautiously due to the methodological limitations of the study.’