Can Exercise Prevent Dementia?
If you have a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia and memory loss, you know how heartbreaking it can be. Watching your loved one slip away from you is incredibly difficult. Not only that, this experience makes you worry about your own future.
Will I get dementia too?
Or, can I prevent it?
With six million Americans coping with Alzheimer’s disease, a lot of us are asking this question. And that includes researchers. With the rise in Alzheimer’s and other memory-related impairments, medical research has focused a lot of time, money and energy on researching how to prevent dementia.
While there isn’t a pill, surgery, or quick fix that will ensure you don’t incur memory loss at some point in your life, a growing body of research has linked regular exercise to a lower risk of dementia.
The Alzheimer’s Society in the UK looked at 11 different studies that researched the effect of exercise on middle-aged people. They found that “regular exercise can significantly reduce the risk of developing dementia by about 30 percent. For Alzheimer’s disease specifically, the risk was reduced by 45 percent.”
How Can Exercise help prevent dementia?
Exercise has numerous benefits. Most of us know that it’s good for our heart health and overall physical health, but exercise is also good for our brains.
As Heather Snyder, vice president of medical and scientific relations at the Alzheimer’s Association, said, “What’s good for your heart is good for your brain.”
This is because physical activity increases blood flow to the brain as well as increasing chemicals that protect the brain. When you exercise, you get a boost of the BDNF protein which helps “promote the formation of new neurons and minimize the loss of existing ones.” This is especially helpful for the hippocampus—a part of the brain associated with memory.
What type of exercise prevents dementia?
Studies show that aerobic exercise—any exercise that raises your heart rate—is best for preventing dementia. Running, cycling, swimming, and even walking are excellent forms of aerobic exercise.
According to the Mayo Clinic, performing aerobic exercise for 30 to 60 minutes several times a week…
While all forms of movement are beneficial, the Alzheimer’s Society examined 29 clinical trials and concluded that “a month or more of regular aerobic exercise resulted in improvements in memory, attention and processing speed when compared with regular non-aerobic exercises such as stretching and toning.”
Even if you haven’t exercised in a long time, or ever, don’t worry. As Snyder said, “The data suggest that it’s never too late to start.” Exercising in mid-life seems to be a key factor in prevention.
What else helps prevent dementia?
Exercise alone cannot prevent dementia and even the most avid exercisers are not immune to Alzheimer’s or dementia. But exercise is a crucial part of a larger wellness strategy that could help fend off memory loss. Proper nutrition, social activity, good sleep and hobbies that challenge your brain such as crossword puzzles can all aid in keeping your brain healthy and your memory functioning properly.
One in nine adults over the age of 65 and a third of adults over age 85 have Alzheimer’s disease. According to the CDC, this is an epidemic. Fortunately, with the wealth of research now available on this disease and dementia, we know basic and simple lifestyle changes, such as exercise, can affect the risk of memory loss. With this knowledge and the research that continues, we can have hope for a brighter and healthier future.