New Guidelines For Mild Cognitive Impairment Recommend Exercising Weekly

Exercising twice a week may improve memory and slow the onset of dementia

The American Academy of Neurology  recently released a new set of guidelines related to mild cognitive impairment and how to mitigate its symptoms. The recommendations were published in the December 27 online issue of the AAN’s medical journal Neurology.

Elderly man sitting on couch while wife consoles him symbolizing mild cognitive impairment


Mild cognitive impairment is a stage of cognitive decline that oftentimes develops into dementia. It creates a slight decline in cognitive abilities, such as thinking and memory skills. The symptoms will be noticeable to both the person who has the impairment and those around them. However, a person with mild cognitive impairment will still be able to perform daily tasks.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are two classifications of mild cognitive impairment, amnestic and nonamnestic. Amnestic MCI primarily affects memory. Someone experiencing amnestic MCI may forget things like doctor’s appointments or a recent conversation.

Nonamnestic MCI causes a decline in thinking abilities. A person with nonamnestic MCI may have difficulties judging the amount of time it will take to complete a task or could struggle to make sensible decisions.

The inherent difference between MCI and full-on dementia is that a person with MCI can still perform daily tasks. People suffering from dementia, on the other hand, can have trouble dressing, bathing, eating, etc. Those with MCI have milder symptoms, but are within the same realm. There is significant evidence that MCI can lead to dementia, so it’s important to diagnose MCI as early as possible.

The AAN panel drew its conclusions after reviewing hundreds of research studies regarding MCI prevalence, prognosis and treatment. Perhaps one of the more important findings the researchers made is the potential for exercise to mitigate the symptoms of MCI.

The panel found that older people over age 65 with mild cognitive impairment who exercised had significant improvement in cognitive function. They wrote, “In patients with MCI, exercise training…is likely to improve cognitive measures.” This is especially important considering that there are currently no FDA-approved medications to treat MCI.

How Much Exercise?

The research panel notes that people with MCI symptoms don’t have to severely ramp up their amount of exercising. They recommend light aerobic exercise twice a week or about 150 minutes a week.

Elderly couple riding bicycles symbolizing exercise


“It’s exciting that exercise may help improve memory at this stage, as it’s something most people can do and of course it has overall health benefits,” said lead author Ronald C. Petersen, M.D., Ph.D., of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology.

Petersen recommends that people be realistic with their limits. They can simply do a bit more of whatever they may already be doing. Walking for an extra five minutes, or going on a few more walks a week can be beneficial.

Clearly nobody wants to develop dementia. It makes daily life difficult, and affects those around us. Since mild cognitive impairment may be a precursor to dementia, it’s vital that doctors diagnose MCI early, Peterson says. What’s more, by studying this stage of cognitive decline, researchers may be able to learn more about different forms of dementia, he adds.

“If we get people who are only mildly symptomatic to enroll in clinical trials,” he said, “we might be able to find ways to stop the process at this point. And that would be critical.”

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