Research Suggests Stretching Can Play A Role In Slowing Cognitive Decline

Regular stretching may help slow cognitive decline, according to a recent study presented at the 2022 Alzheimer's Association International Conference in San Diego on Tuesday, August 2. In the study, researchers followed 296 sedentary adults diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment — a condition that may lead to dementia (via CNN). Participants were split into two groups, half of which were instructed to perform moderate-intensity aerobic exercise on treadmills or stationary bikes for 30 to 40 minutes, while the other half were instructed to perform stretching, balance, and range of motion exercises.

After 12 months, researchers performed cognitive tests and brain scans on them and found that cognitive function had not further declined in either group. This data suggests that regular stretching, balance, and range of motion exercises might be as effective in slowing mild cognitive decline as aerobic exercise. According to Rudy Tanzi, a professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School, the study's findings support previous studies in mice, which found that physical activity can help produce new neurons in the area of the brain most impacted by Alzheimer's disease (per CNN).

Experts say there are limitations to the study

There are some limitations to this study, however. According to experts at Healthline, tracking a third group of non-exercisers in the same study would have offered stronger findings and results. In addition, the study does not show that stretching, specifically, can potentially help slow cognitive decline, since it's lumped in with other balance and range of motion exercises.

"Typically, stretching is the control group in an exercise and brain health study, and this study could have incorporated a third group, which is an active control that only does stretching, to further elucidate what may be happening here," Ryan Glatt, a personal trainer and brain health coach for the Pacific Neuroscience Institute at Providence Saint John's Health Center, told Healthline.

That being said, stretching may still be helpful for older adults with mild cognitive impairment. That's because stretching and other gentle movements help force you to use your brain to create mind-muscle connections in order to move properly, and this may help stimulate the regions of your brain that control your thoughts and memory.