Scientists have understood for a long time that exercise is beneficial to the body. They are demonstrating in recent years how good it is for the brain, too.
Regular physical activity seems to be one of the most effective things you can do to lower your chance of developing dementia out of all the lifestyle changes the researchers have evaluated.
A decrease in cerebral blood flow is one of the causes of Alzheimer’s . However, improving blood flow can prevent cognitive loss. Aerobic exercise (an activity that raises your heart rate) enhances blood flow in the brain, and studies have indicated that it can help prevent and slow the onset of Alzheimer’s.
Several research studies examining the impact of aerobic exercise on middle-aged or older adults have demonstrated improvements in thinking and memory, as well as lower rates of dementia.
Exercising & Physical Activity in Mid-Life
Prospective studies track the health and behavior of a group of people through time. Many prospective studies have examined the impact of physical activity on middle-aged people’s thinking and memory in later life. The Alzheimer’s Society in the UK combined the findings of 11 studies, revealing that regular exercise can dramatically lower dementia risk by roughly 30%. In the case of Alzheimer’s, the risk decreased by 45% .
According to a 44-year longitudinal population study in women, stamina has a connection with the risk of dementia. An article in the medical journal Neurology found that women with superior cardiovascular health had an 88% lower risk of developing dementia than other women .
Similarly, one study tracked over 2,000 men in Wales for 35 years while examining their health-related behaviors. Exercise had the most significant impact on lowering the risk of dementia of the five behaviors evaluated (regular exercise, avoiding smoking, moderate alcohol use, healthy body weight, and good food). Those who engaged in four or five of the mentioned behaviors were generally up to 60% less likely to develop dementia .
Adults in good health can do better on thinking tests over the short term when they engage in aerobic activity. Combining the findings of 29 clinical trials demonstrated that regular aerobic exercise, as opposed to regular non-aerobic exercise like stretching and toning, improved memory, attention, and processing speed after a month or more .
Exercising & Physical Activity in Later Life
Although there have been fewer studies done with healthy older individuals, there is some indication that regular exercise can help older adults minimize their risk of dementia. In one study of 716 persons with an average age of 82 years, those in the bottom 10% of regular physical activity were more than twice as likely to acquire Alzheimer’s as those in the top 10% .
A literature review revealed 27 studies that investigated the influence of physical activity on brain function in individuals over 60 years. There was a definite correlation between physical activity levels and cognitive performance in 26 trials, indicating that exercise may effectively decrease the cognitive decline in later life .
Healthy older adults who engage in aerobic activity have their brains affected, too. In a small-scale controlled trial, aerobic exercise showed a slight increase in the size of the hippocampus (the crucial brain region involved in memory), similar to restoring one to two years of age-related shrinkage . Another study of 638 individuals discovered that those who were healthy and active at age 70 had less brain shrinkage in three years than those who were not .
What exactly is “physical activity”?
The term “physical activity” or “exercise” is not used uniformly throughout all of the research studies in this field. Generally speaking, they are about an aerobic activity done for a long time—maybe 20 to 30 minutes. Most of the research discusses the benefits of aerobic exercise that are performed several times per week and continued for at least a year.
Physical activity, however, is not limited to jogging or participating in sports. It can also refer to a regular activity like cleaning, gardening, or brisk walking. According to one study, even performing physical activities like cooking and cleaning up after yourself can lower your risk of developing Alzheimer’s .
Strength exercise is also linked with improved moods, deeper sleep, and cognitive wellness. Any physical activity will increase blood flow to the brain, which is critical. Some physical activities, such as dancing and boxing, enhance the brain because they require mental effort to learn and repeat steps . According to a paper published in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, just one exercise session can boost your brain’s functioning and the component of memory that allows us to remember standard information .
More Research is Required!
Further research is required to determine the best type and amount of exercise, which will probably change over a person’s lifetime. More research is also needed to fully comprehend the role of physical activity in lowering the risk of various types of dementia.
- Goldsmith, H.S., 2022. Alzheimer’s Disease: A Decreased Cerebral Blood Flow to Critical Intraneuronal Elements Is the Cause. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, (Preprint), pp.1-4.
- Physical Exercise and Dementia. https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/about-dementia/risk-factors-and-prevention/physical-exercise. Accessed: 31st March, 2023.
- Hörder, H., Johansson, L., Guo, X., Grimby, G., Kern, S., Östling, S. and Skoog, I., 2018. Midlife cardiovascular fitness and dementia: a 44-year longitudinal population study in women. Neurology, 90(15), pp.e1298-e1305.
- Elwood, P., Galante, J., Pickering, J., Palmer, S., Bayer, A., Ben-Shlomo, Y., Longley, M. and Gallacher, J., 2013. Healthy lifestyles reduce the incidence of chronic diseases and dementia: evidence from the Caerphilly cohort study. PloS one, 8(12), p.e81877.
- Buchman, A.S., Boyle, P.A., Yu, L., Shah, R.C., Wilson, R.S. and Bennett, D.A., 2012. Total daily physical activity and the risk of AD and cognitive decline in older adults. Neurology, 78(17), pp.1323-1329.
- Tarumi, T., Rossetti, H., Thomas, B.P., Harris, T., Tseng, B.Y., Turner, M., Wang, C., German, Z., Martin-Cook, K., Stowe, A.M. and Womack, K.B., 2019. Exercise training in amnestic mild cognitive impairment: a one-year randomized controlled trial. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 71(2), pp.421-433.
- Gow, A.J., Bastin, M.E., Maniega, S.M., Hernández, M.C.V., Morris, Z., Murray, C., Royle, N.A., Starr, J.M., Deary, I.J. and Wardlaw, J.M., 2012. Neuroprotective lifestyles and the aging brain: activity, atrophy, and white matter integrity. Neurology, 79(17), pp.1802-1808.
- Croft, J. Why Exercise Can Help Alzheimer’s. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/news/20210720/why-exercise-can-help-prevent-alzheimers. Published online: 21st Jan, 2021. Accessed: 31st March, 2023.