(HealthDay News) For older people with white matter changes living independently, physical activity lowers the risk of cognitive impairment, according to a study published online Nov. 1 in Stroke.

Ana Verdelho, MD, from the University of Lisbon in Portugal, and colleagues evaluated prospective data from the 639 participants of the LADIS (Leukoaraiosis and Disability) multinational European study to examine whether physical activity interferes with progression for cognitive impairment and dementia. Participants (74.1±5 years; 55% women; 64% physically active) were evaluated yearly over three years with a comprehensive clinical protocol and cognitive assessment. Magnetic resonance imaging was performed at baseline and at the study’s conclusion.

The researchers found that 90 patients had dementia at the end of follow-up (54 with vascular dementia; 34 with Alzheimer’s disease with vascular component; and two with frontotemporal dementia), and 147 had cognitive impairment which was not dementia. Physical activity correlated significantly with reductions in the risk of cognitive impairment (hazard ratio [HR], 0.64), dementia (HR, 0.61), and vascular dementia (HR, 0.42). The associations were independent of other factors, including age, education, severity of white matter change, medial temporal atrophy, previous and incident stroke, and diabetes.

“Our data support the conviction that older subjects with vascular risk factors and evidence for vascular cerebral damage benefit from regular physical activity,” the authors write. “We think that [the] relation between physical activity and cognitive impairment should be further studied by interventional studies.”

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