Trouble with memory and thinking, something doctors call "neurocognitive impairment", affects nearly half of people infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. It can interfere with the ability to do daily tasks such as handling finances, driving and taking medication as scheduled, experts say.
However, the new study suggests that exercise "may reduce or potentially prevent neurocognitive impairment in HIV-infected persons", according to a team led by Dr David Moore of the University of California, San Diego.
Their study included 335 people with HIV who were asked how much they exercised. They also underwent testing to assess seven brain functions commonly affected by HIV: verbal fluency, working memory, speed of information processing, learning, recall, executive function and motor function.
Those who got regular exercise were half as likely to show signs of impaired mental function as those who did not exercise, according to the study published in the August issue of the Journal of NeuroVirology.
The major benefit of exercise in people with HIV seems to be the reduction of risk factors that can affect the brain such as high blood pressure and abnormally high levels of fats in the blood, Moore said.
The findings add to previous research showing a link between exercise and brain health in people with HIV.
"Physical exercise, together with other modifiable lifestyle factors such as education, social engagement, cognitive [mental] stimulation and diet could be fruitful interventions to support people living with HIV," Moore said in a journal news release.
AIDS.gov has more about HIV and the brain.