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Turning Back the Clock

Cognitive Function and Chiropractic

One of the theories for why  regular exercise improves mental functioning relates to alterations in the amount of blood reaching the brain.  A complementary proposed mechanism involves changes in the structure and function of the brain's own blood vessels.

The ability of regular exercise to encourage the growth of new blood vessels and strengthen and improve existing blood vessels depends, in part, on a properly functioning nerve system. Your nerve system supports the activity of all other body systems. It needs to be operating at optimal levels in order for all other systems to operate at their optimal levels.

Regular chiropractic care helps ensure the integrity and proper functioning of your nerve system, including your brain, spinal cord, and spinal nerves. By achieving this, chiropractic care helps you get the highest benefits from your exercise.

Many individuals notice occasional problems remembering things as they get older. Every so often, it may become frustratingly difficult or even seemingly impossible to recall a particular person's name or a specific word. One might commit a telephone number to memory and then immediately forget it. Of course, everyone is familiar with the sinking feeling associated with the critical question "where did I put my keys?", or perhaps after a day of shopping: "where did I park my car?".  For most people these are minor glitches, and nothing else. However, for approximately 10-20% of older persons, these lapses represent mild cognitive impairment.1 And for a proportion of these people, mild cognitive impairment will progress to Alzheimer's disease.
Normal aging may include occurrences of subtle forgetfulness such as having difficulty remembering certain words, not recalling where you put an important document, or perhaps leaving a full carton of milk on the kitchen counter overnight. But the memory loss associated with mild cognitive impairment represents an actual condition or disease entity. This type of memory loss is more significant and troublesome. People may forget important information such as meaningful telephone conversations, recent events that would normally be of interest, and dates and times of important appointments.

In the early stages it can be hard to tell the difference between mild cognitive impairment and the normal effects aging. Some suspected cases of impaired mental activity may be the result of treatable conditions such as depression or the symptom of an underactive thyroid.

It is common for people experiencing the significant memory problems associated with mild cognitive impairment to decline by about 10% each year. Risk factors associated with more rapid decline include a low metabolic rate in regions of the brain associated with memory and processing of information. More rapid decline is also associated with reduced size of the hippocampus, a seahorse-shaped structure located in the center of the brain which is critical in memory, spatial memory, and navigation.

The good news is that people can take action  to improve and preserve their cognitive function. Many recent studies have shown that regular exercise provides a significant benefit in people with memory problems.2,3 For example, walking just 50 minutes a day, three times a week resulted in long-term improvements in cognitive function. People exercising for 150 minutes each week had better delayed recall and they performed better on cognitive exams. Additionally, people doing moderate exercise had lower Clinical Dementia Rating Scores. In one study, a 6-month program of physical activity resulted in improvements which persisted over an 18-month period.
The message is obvious. In order to live long and live well during our advanced years, exercise is critical, and has a wide range of benefits for the mind and body. We now know that exercise can not only improve a person's physical health, but it can also help them maintain and improve their cognitive abilities. Getting regular exercise is a smart choice, and it also helps us stay smart through the years.

1Petersen RC: Clinical practice. Mild cognitive impairment. NEJM 364(23):2227-2234, 2011
2Lautenschlager NT, et al: Effect of physical activity on cognitive function in older adults at risk for Alzheimer disease. JAMA 300(9):1027-1037, 2008

3Prohaska TR, et al: Walking and the preservation of cognitive function in older populations. Gerontologist 49(Suppl 1):S86-S93, 2009

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