Exercise & Dementia

The benefit of exercise is not a new topic. We are constantly being encouraged to think about our health; what we eat, how much we sleep, what exercise we take, keeping our minds active and avoiding isolation. This isn’t the first article we’ve put on our website either. Exercise not only improves your physical health, but also cognition. It has global effects on the brain, enriching function in areas that traditionally have not been thought to be related to exercise. Click here for more details.

The latest research in this area indicates how exercise can reduce the risk of dementia. One study published in The Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, showed how people who did more moderate-intensity physical activity were more likely to have healthy patterns of glucose metabolism in their brains — a sign of healthy brain activity — than those who did less. Light-intensity physical activity, on the other hand, was not associated with similar benefits. Researchers found that people who spent at least 68 minutes a day engaged in physical activity at a moderate level—the equivalent of a brisk walk—had better glucose metabolism than those who spent less time doing so.

So what does exercise do to the brain? Aerobic or cardio exercise, raises the heart rate and increases blood flow to the brain resulting in neurogenesis, (the production of neurons which control memory and thinking). Along with increased heart rate and harder and faster breathing, more oxygen enters the bloodstream and is delivered to the brain. Numerous studies support the argument that maintaining an active lifestyle provides a cognitive advantage. Obese adults and obese children are generally outperformed on cognitive tests by their more fit counterparts. So, an active lifestyle, has benefits that can last for decades.

In a study conducted by Dr. David Jacobs, exercise tests were administered to a group of subjects to determine their fitness levels. Those who were the most active in 1985 tended to still be on the fit side of the spectrum decades later. That same “fit” cohort also performed better on cognitive tests decades later suggesting activity in early and mid life may produce protective cognitive effects across the life span.

So whilst there is no guarantee you will avoid dementia, moderate exercise can build core strength, help avoid chronic conditions, maintain cognitive functioning and help improve your overall health, both now and in the future.