DAILY stretching can help prevent the brain from ageing – and potentially stave off dementia.
A study found it was as effective as cardio exercise, a key prevention tool for many diseases.
Almost 300 inactive older adults with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) were involved in the study.
MCI causes brain changes in older age that affect memory, but not to the extent that it makes daily activities difficult.
An estimated five to 20 per cent of people aged over 65 have MCI.
It is not a type of dementia, but a person with MCI is more likely to go on to develop dementia.
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During the study, conducted by Wake Forest School of Medicine, North Carolina, the participants were split into two groups.
Half were instructed to do moderate intensity aerobic exercise, on treadmills or stationary bikes, four days a week.
The other half did functional stretching, balance and “range of motion” exercises.
After a year, researchers performed cognitive tests and brain scans.
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Neither group’s cognitive decline got worse, nor did scans indicate brain shrinkage had occurred, the researchers revealed at the 2022 Alzheimer's Association International Conference in San Diego.
Lead researcher Dr Laura Baker, a neuroscientist, said stretching-type exercise "is doable for everybody”.
She told CNN: "Individuals who have mild cognitive impairment are not cognitively normal, but they don't have dementia.
"They're fully capable of taking care of themselves, but what they have to go through to do so is exhausting.
"'I can't remember where I'm supposed to be. Let me check my calendar. Oh, I forgot to write on this calendar.. I've lost my phone. Where is the key? I can't find the key’.
"They're able to regroup in the early stages and accomplish things… but the toll is immense."
Limitations of the study include that it did not involve a group that did no exercise at all, which would have strengthened the results.
And it wasn’t possible to tease out which was most beneficial out of stretching, balance and movement exercises – all of which were used together.
Prof Baker said the people in the stretching group were “thrilled” because they were able to do things they weren’t able to before, such as turn and look out the back window while reversing.
Personal trainer Sean Kinsman, chief clinical officer at RecoveryOne, told Healthline that stretching can help with injury prevention, joint function, maintaining posture and reducing inflammation.
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He said to make stretching worthwhile, hold each move for more than 90 seconds to change the tissue.
He recommended exercises such as cat-cow pose, child’s pose, hip flexor stretches and lumbar trunk rotation.
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