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Brain blog showcase: Does Aerobic Exercise Improve Alzheimer’s Symptoms In Older Age?

by on 2018/06/26

All this week we’re showcasing the work of students who have been “researching the headlines” as part of their undergraduate studies. Their task was to describe an original research report exploring how lifestyle affects brain health in a manner accessible to non-experts, as well as evaluating the media coverage of the research. If you’re interested in using this approach in your own teaching, you can contact Alan Gow ( for more information and materials.

Next up in the “brain blog” showcase, we have…

Does Aerobic Exercise Improve Alzheimer’s Symptoms In Older Age?

by Kae Cynn Wong

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a degenerative brain disease that is the most common form of dementia which usually starts in late middle or old age. It results in progressive memory loss and other cognitive abilities serious enough to interfere with one’s daily life. Based on the original paper that is referred by the media article, AD is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and the incidence of AD is expected to increase by double by 2050. Previous papers have suggested exercise as the prevention and treatment for AD but the results were inconsistent. Hence, Panza and his colleagues conducted a meta-analysis on 19 controlled studies to evaluate the effect of exercise on the AD’s. This text will classify both the original paper and media article in turn.

The researcher’s perspectives

This study was a meta-analysis on the effects of exercise training on the cognitive function in individual at risk or diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease (AD). The researchers looked for the records identified through different database searching. After screening for the eligibility, 19 controlled studies with 23 interventions of 1,145 subjects were included, involving an exercise-only intervention and non-diet, non-exercise control group. 65% of the subjects were at risk of AD while 35% of them presented with AD. The studies all gauged the before and after intervention cognitive function measurements. 15 theoretically driven moderators including study quality, sample and exercise intervention characteristics were examined in this paper to determine which combinations lead to the greatest improvements in cognitive function.

The results supported the findings that the use of exercise training as a therapeutic approach may improve the cognitive function of older adults at risk of or diagnosed with AD. The overall findings is consistent with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) exercise recommendations which suggest that having training for 3 days per week for approximately 45 minutes per session of moderate-intensity exercise resulted in better improvements in cognitive functions. Furthermore, this meta-analysis is the first to indicate aerobic exercise alone may be more effective than other combined exercise. The moderator analysis also helped in providing insight where it revealed that the improvements in cognitive function were greater in samples with better devotion to the exercise training intervention.

Overall, this meta-analysis is good as it helped the readers to understand better regarding the effect of exercise on the cognitive function of a single type of dementia which is the AD. Past meta-analysis usually included subjects with all types of dementia. In addition, the researchers also applied newer statistical techniques which helped in recognizing the moderators altogether rather than individually. However, although only 57% of the studies applied used MMSE as the measurement tools, the researchers did not classify it as a moderator. This could be analysed in the future paper to strengthen the findings.

What did the media say?

The quality of the media article is overall good as the journalist reported an accurate information regarding the findings of the meta-analysis on the effect of exercise on the Alzheimer’s disease (AD). In addition, the flow and arrangement of the article is well-arranged. The journalist also stated the example of how “moderate exercise” is being defined in the research based, including the type and duration of the exercise. This section is useful as it may help the readers who are interested to start on with the exercise immediately. Additionally, the paper is fairly insightful as the journalist mentioned that aerobic exercise showed “three times” better effect than the combined exercise. To the best of my knowledge, the researchers of the meta-analysis only reported the results in statistical form. This is really handy as not all readers may have understood it if the journalist also reported it in the same way. However, there is a small point incorrectly stated where the journalist reported AD is expected to be “tripled” in Americans where it actually is to be “doubled”. To put this inaccuracy aside, the coverage of the article is really good.

Last but not least, the article did mention where the study got published. This is a good practice as it allows and eases readers who wants to know more detail about the research study. Moreover, the journalist also suggested findings from additional studies which could help the readers to add knowledge on the current treatment of Alzheimer’s.

What’s to come?

Although the meta-analysis has come up with the findings that aerobic exercise can improve the cognitive function in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, the findings could be further confirmed using neuropsychological measures to assess the pre-and-post exercise neuroimaging measures of the samples’ cognitive function. Additionally, further studies should investigate the relationship between exercises with other strategies such as the types of medications used to provide more insight regarding the ways to delay the decline in cognitive function of AD.


News, H., & Inc., N. (2018). Aerobic Exercise Can Improve Alzheimer’s SymptomsNewsmax. Retrieved 25 February 2018, from

Panza, G., Taylor, B., MacDonald, H., Johnson, B., Zaleski, A., & Livingston, J. et al. (2018). Can Exercise Improve Cognitive Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease? A Meta-Analysis. Journal Of The American Geriatrics Society.

From → Psychology

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