According to a new guideline released by the American Academy of Neurology (AAN), for patients with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), exercising twice a week may improve cognitive functions like thinking ability and memory. The updated guideline was published in the journal Neurology®.

Mild cognitive impairment is a medical condition that is common with aging. It is linked to problems with thinking ability and memory. People with MCI have milder symptoms and they struggle to complete complex tasks or have difficulty understanding the information they have read.

"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, a Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology. "Because MCI may progress to dementia, it is particularly important that MCI is diagnosed early."

The guideline states that there are no FDA-approved medications for the treatment of MCI. Moreover, there are no high-quality, long-term studies that suggest drugs or dietary changes can improve thinking ability or delay memory problems in people with MCI.

The guideline states that doctors may recommend cognitive training for people with MCI. There is weak evidence that cognitive training may be beneficial in improving measures of cognitive function.

The AAN’s guideline authors developed the recommendations after reviewing all available studies on MCI. Worldwide, more than 6% of people in their 60s have MCI, and the condition becomes more common with age. More than 37% of people age 85 and older have it.

The authors suggest that doctors should recommend patients with MCI to exercise regularly as part of an overall approach to managing their symptoms. Although long-term studies have not been conducted, six-month studies suggest twice-weekly workouts may improve memory.

"If you or others have noticed that you are forgetful and are having trouble with complex tasks, you should see your doctor to be evaluated and not assume that it is just part of normal aging," said Petersen.

"Sometimes memory problems are a side effect of medications, sleep disturbances, depression, or other causes that can be treated. It is important to meet with your doctor to determine the root cause. Early action may keep memory problems from getting worse," Petersen added.