Moderate-to-High Intensity Physical Exercise in Patients with Alzheimer's Disease: A Randomized Controlled Trial

J Alzheimers Dis. 2016;50(2):443-53. doi: 10.3233/JAD-150817.


Background: Studies of physical exercise in patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD) are few and results have been inconsistent.

Objective: To assess the effects of a moderate-to-high intensity aerobic exercise program in patients with mild AD.

Methods: In a randomized controlled trial, we recruited 200 patients with mild AD to a supervised exercise group (60-min sessions three times a week for 16 weeks) or to a control group. Primary outcome was changed from baseline in cognitive performance estimated by Symbol Digit Modalities Test (SDMT) in the intention-to-treat (ITT) group. Secondary outcomes included changes in quality of life, ability to perform activities of daily living, and in neuropsychiatric and depressive symptoms.

Results: The ITT analysis showed no significant differences between intervention and control groups in change from baseline of SDMT, other cognitive tests, quality of life, or activities of daily living. The change from baseline in Neuropsychiatric Inventory differed significantly in favor of the intervention group (mean: -3.5, 95% confidence interval (CI) -5.8 to -1.3, p = 0.002). In subjects who adhered to the protocol, we found a significant effect on change from baseline in SDMT as compared with the control group (mean: 4.2, 95% CI 0.5 to 7.9, p = 0.028), suggesting a dose-response relationship between exercise and cognition.

Conclusions: This is the first randomized controlled trial with supervised moderate-to-high intensity exercise in patients with mild AD. Exercise reduced neuropsychiatric symptoms in patients with mild AD, with possible additional benefits of preserved cognition in a subgroup of patients exercising with high attendance and intensity.

Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; behavioral symptoms; cognition; exercise; randomized controlled trial.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living / psychology*
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alzheimer Disease / psychology
  • Alzheimer Disease / therapy*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Depression / psychology
  • Depression / therapy*
  • Exercise / psychology*
  • Exercise Therapy / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Quality of Life / psychology*
  • Treatment Outcome