Couch potatoes beware! According to the Framingham Heart Study, a federally funded health research project begun 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 medical director of the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care Program at University of California, Los Angeles. “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 said. “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 desk-bound 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 a 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.”