Can Exercise Ward Off Dementia?

    A senior woman holding a blue dumbbell on a beachOlder people who exercise regularly may reduce their risk of dementia and help keep their minds sharp, a new study suggests.

    Physical activity may cut dementia risk by 40 percent and decline of thinking skills by as much as 60 percent, researchers say.

    “Over the past three years, this has become a highly consistent finding,” said Dr. Sam Gandy, associate director of the Mount Sinai Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center in New York City, who had no part in the study.

    “The best thing we can do for ourselves and our patients is to adopt a regular exercise routine,” he said. “This delays or prevents dementia or slows progression so there is some benefit for everyone.”

    Dr. Ralph Sacco, chairman of neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said this study shows some convincing evidence that physical activity in an older population reduces the risk of vascular dementia. Vascular dementia results from reduced blood flow to the brain, typically because of strokes, and may lead to symptoms such as confusion, depression, agitation and problems with memory, attention or decision-making.

    “Physical activity is one of the seven key health factors in the American Heart Association’s definition of ideal cardiovascular health, and can also help to reduce stroke and improve brain health,” Sacco said.

    As the U.S. population ages, more emphasis will be placed on ways to reduce dementia and age-related cognitive (mental) decline, he added.

    “Staying physically active is not only important to improve heart health, but can also promote better brain health,” Sacco said.

    The study was released online Nov. 1 in advance of publication in the December print issue of the journal Stroke.

    The investigators, led by Dr. Ana Verdelho, a neuroscience researcher at the University of Lisbon, Santa Maria Hospital in Portugal, had more than 600 men and women in their 60s and 70s undergo brain scans at the start and end of the study to look for changes that indicate declining mental function. Almost two-thirds of the participants took exercise classes, walked or biked for 30 minutes a day three times a week.

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