Exercising several times a week may delay brain deterioration in those who are at high risk of Alzheimer’s disease, according to a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

“If these findings can be replicated in a larger trial, then maybe one day doctors will be telling high-risk patients to start an exercise plan. In fact, there’s no harm in doing so now,” said Rong Zhang, Ph.D., of the University of Texas Southwestern, who led the clinical trial.

The study compared the cognitive function and brain volume of 70 participants aged 55 or more years who had memory issues. Participants were divided into two groups, one that did aerobic exercise — at least a half-hour workout four to five times every week — and the other that did only flexibility training.

People who had an accumulation of amyloid beta in the brain, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease, experienced slower degeneration in a region of the brain crucial for memory if they exercised regularly for one year. Exercise did not prevent the eventual spread of the amyloid plaques thought to kill neurons, but the findings suggest that aerobic workouts at least may slow down the effects of the disease if intervention occurs in the early stages.