High-intensity exercise doesn't ease the symptoms of dementia

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"Whilst previous smaller studies have suggested that exercise can prevent or improve cognitive decline in people with Alzheimer's disease, this robust and very large study provides the most definitive answer we have on the role of exercise in mild-moderate Alzheimer's disease", he said via the Science Media Centre.

Almost 47.5 million people across the world are estimated to have dementia and the view that exercise might counteract the decline in mental capacity has gained widespread popularity.

Researchers invited people who had mild to moderate dementia and were living in the community (not in a nursing home) to take part in the study.

The exercise programme consisted of 4 months of twice-weekly 60- to 90-minute gym sessions. The main (primary) outcome was an Alzheimer's disease assessment score (ADAS-cog) at 12 months. There were no differences in secondary outcomes or preplanned subgroup analyses by dementia type, severity of cognitive impairment, sex, and mobility.

The study did find that exercise helped people with mild to moderate dementia improve their physical fitness, but those benefits "do not translate into improvements in cognitive impairment, activities in daily living, behaviour, or health related quality of life", the authors of the study write.

A new study published by JAMAPsychiatry has suggested that being less well off in later life could be linked to a higher risk of dementia. The structured exercise period might have been too short, although changes in physical fitness occurred during the trial and did not transfer into other clinically meaningful benefits. "Exergaming is one more thing that could be added to the arsenal of tools to fight back against this cruel disease".

Indeed, patients who participated in the exercise programme showed slightly worse scores.

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In the exercise group, the decline was steeper, "however, the average difference was small and clinical relevance was uncertain", said a press statement. While some of the headlines were a bit alarmist - such as The Independent's "Exercise could make dementia progression worse not better" - most of the reports were balanced and accurate.

"Exercise is important for cognitive function, but you may need to engage in it early in life", he told MedPage Today.

The researchers pointed to some trial limitations.

Although several recent studies reported that exercise may improve memory and slow down mental decline, there have also been studies with conflicting results.

People taking part in RCTs usually do not know whether they're in the treatment or control group, but this was impossible to hide for an exercise study.

A surprising study by a team of United Kingdom researchers says people with dementia should avoid intense physical activities.

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