Couch potatoes, beware! According to the Framingham Heart Study, a federally funded health research project that began in 1948, those who get little to no exercise have a higher risk of developing dementia in old age—by a whopping 50 percent.
Meanwhile, by participating in moderate physical activity daily — walking briskly, bicycling, gardening, or even dancing – you can stave off the risk of developing the disease associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities.
“It doesn’t require intensive physical activity to decrease risk of dementia,” said senior researcher Dr. Zaldy Tan. He is the Director of the Cedars-Sinai Health System / Memory; Aging Program and Medical Director of the Jona Goldrich Center for Alzheimer’s; Memory Disorders, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. “Even moderate amounts are fine.”
According to the study results, which were recently published in Journals of Gerontology: Medical Sciences, 3,700 participants aged 75 and older gained the most benefit from exercise against the early onset of dementia. The takeaway? “You’re never too old to exercise and gain benefit from it,” Tan added. “These patients derive the most benefit from exercise because they are the ones who are at the age of greatest risk for dementia.”
As you may know, the brain tends to shrink with age. So, it makes perfect sense that people who exercised on a regular basis, tended to have larger brain volumes than those who were inactive, researchers found.
As for how they came across their results, study authors measured how often the participants exercised, and tracked them over a decade— breaking the study population down into fifths that ranged from the deskbound to the full of zip. Overall, investigators discovered that the one-fifth containing the most inactive people were 50 percent more likely to develop dementia than the other four-fifths. In other words, even a little exercise helps! During the study, 236 people developed dementia.
Of course, exercise is just one way to prevent the common illness. According to the Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation, there are 6 pillars of dementia (and Alzheimer’s) prevention:
1. Mental stimulation: Learning new things throughout life will help keep you mentally sharp. Read something new, watch a new documentary, learn a new skill, try a new board game, learn a new instrument, etc.
2. Quality sleep: An increasing number of studies have linked poor sleep to higher levels of a sticky brain-clogging protein, beta- amyloid, which interferes with sleep. “Other studies emphasize the importance of uninterrupted sleep for flushing out brain toxins.”
3. Stress management: While chronic stress has an overall negative impact on your body, it takes one heck of a toll on the brain, causing shrinkage in the area of the brain known as the hippocampus, hindering nerve cell growth, and increasing your risk of dementia. Combat these effects by participating in daily relaxation activities.
4. Social engagement: An active social life consisting of “tests of memory and cognition” creates less room for isolation as we get older.
5. Regular exercise: At least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week.
6. A balanced diet: Stock up on fruit and veggies. Get plenty of omega-3 fats and by all means, avoid trans fats and saturated fats which can cause inflammation and produce free radicals which are hard on the brain.
Naturally, the more you implement these pillars in your daily life, the healthier your brain will be… longer.