By Hugh Finlay
Reuters reports a study done in Canada which shows a significant improvement in the brain functioning of people with vascular cognitive impairment (also known as vascular dementia), resulting from following a program of walking. These results came after 6 months of walking. The participants had to walk 3 hours per week for 6 months. There was also a control group in the study, who continued to be given the usual care for their condition. At the start of the study both groups were given tests to measure their cognitive ability and neural ability. After 6 months, the walking group had big improvements in their reaction times, and general improvements in their brain functioning, resembling more healthy brain functioning, in other words they were on the way to curing their condition. The control group, not on the walking program, showed no change in their reaction times, or in their brain functioning.
Vascular cognitive impairment is caused by damage to the blood vessels, similar to the blood vessel damage of heart disease patients. The walking seems to improve the blood flow to the brain, and good blood flow is important to supply oxygen and nutrients to the brain. Also walking relaxes the nervous system, which reduces blood pressure.
If walking improves the condition of people with vascular cognitive impairment, can walking actually prevent people from getting vascular cognitive impairment? The author of the study, Teresa Liu-Ambrose, a researcher at the Aging, Mobility and Cognitive Neuroscience Lab at University of British Colombia, Vancouver, thinks so, saying "population based studies do suggest that physical activity does reduce the risk of developing VCI. Moreover, as mentioned earlier, aerobic exercise is very effective in reducing vascular risk factors associated with VCI, such as blood pressure."
Dr.Joe Verghese, the director of the Montefiore Einstein Center for the Aging Brain in New York, said "The effect of exercise in this, and other studies seems to be on improving executive functions, which are required for planning, thinking and judgment. The findings, if confirmed in larger studies, may have implications in advising exercise in older patients with vascular risk factors for brain protection."
The study has even wider implications for people's health in general, as Teresa Liu-Ambrose said, "It is well established that regular exercise improves cardiovascular health and cerebrovascular health."