Referring patients with the degenerative disorder to exercise programmes improved performance in cognitive tests compared with usual care, according to the meta-analysis.
The review, which included a total of 16 studies and 937 participants, also found that patients who exercised were more able to carry out daily activities such as bathing or dressing.
However, researchers found no effect of exercise on depression in older people with dementia. There was not enough evidence to draw conclusions about the effect on quality of life or benefits for family carers and health systems.
The authors said the evidence was ‘promising’ but urged caution in interpreting the findings due to large variations in results between the studies examined.
Researcher Dorothy Forbes, associate professor of nursing at the University of Alberta, Canada, said: ‘Clearly, further research is needed to be able to develop best practice guidelines to enable healthcare providers to advise people with dementia living at home or in institutions.
‘We also need to understand what level and intensity of exercise is beneficial for someone with dementia.’