We are studying if strength training exercises can reduce myelin loss and preserve cognitive abilities in adults with cognitive impairment due to vascular risk factors (e.g., high blood pressure), also known as vascular cognitive impairment (VCI).
Worldwide, VCI is the second most common cause of dementia and it is associated with myelin loss. Myelin is a component of neurons critical for transmission of brain signals. Thus, myelin is important for the maintenance of cognitive (i.e., thinking) abilities. Animal studies suggest myelin loss may be minimized with physical exercise. To our knowledge, this will be the first study to quantify the effect of a targeted exercise intervention on myelin loss or damage among adults with mild VCI. With a new technique to capture images of myelin in a living human’s brain, we will have the unique potential to test whether resistance training (i.e., muscle strength training) is effective in preventing myelin loss, with changes in cognition and blood-biomarkers of neuroplasticity, thereby mitigating VCI progression.
We will conduct a 12-month study with 88 adults with VCI; half will receive strength training and half will receive balance and stretching exercises. At the end of study, the two groups will be compared on myelin content and cognitive function. Reducing myelin loss could preserve cognitive abilities in adults with VCI and reduce their risk of dementia. Our proposal is also timely as the prevalence and burden of VCI will only increase with the world’s aging population.