Research Shows Various Forms of Exercise Can Stave Off Dementia

According to three large studies published this year, regular, lifelong physical activity, in all its forms, reduces the risk of dementia.

It is a known scientific fact that exercise has a protective effect against developing dementia. However, scientists often have conflicting observations on the type, frequency, or intensity of exercise that might be best. 

In recent months, three major long studies have attempted to define the types, intensities, and durations of physical activity that confer the greatest benefit against dementia. These studies, which followed hundreds of thousands of people for several years, confirm that regular physical activity, in many forms, plays a substantial role in decreasing the risk of developing dementia. 

According to these studies, vigorous exercise, walking, and even doing household chores can greatly benefit the brain. While vigorous exercise appears to be the best, even non-traditional exercise, such as doing household chores, can offer a significant benefit.

The first study published in the Journal of Neurology established the links between physical activity and the risk of developing the disease. The researchers analyzed the health information of over five hundred thousand participants who did not have dementia in a British database.

At the start of the study, the participants filled out detailed questionnaires on their physical activity habits, such as playing sports, climbing stairs, or walking, and whether they regularly walked or biked to work. They were also asked about various lifestyle factors, including how often they completed household chores. The participants were followed for eleven years, during which time 5,185 of them developed dementia. 

The study found that participants who engaged in regular vigorous exercise, such as playing sports or working out, had a 35% reduced risk of developing dementia. Surprisingly, the researchers also found that participants who regularly engaged in household chores had a 21% lower risk of developing dementia.

According to Dr. Sandra Weintraub, a neurologist at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine who was not involved in this study, “Some people work up quite a sweat when they are doing household chores. It might be that if you do three hours of household chores, you are as good as if you did thirty minutes of aerobic exercise.”

In addition, the study found that the association between physical activity and a reduced risk of dementia extended to participants with a family history of dementia.

The second study, published in Neurology, compiled thirty-eight studies to see what types of physical activities were associated with a reduced risk of dementia. The studies followed more than two million participants without dementia over at least three years, during which time 74,700 of the participants developed dementia.

After controlling for age, education, and gender, the researchers found that participants who exercised regularly had a seventeen percent lower risk of developing dementia compared with those who did not. For this study, regular exercise involves activities such as walking, running, swimming, dancing, participating in sports, or working out at the gym. In fact, this study revealed that dementia prevention is not limited to one activity or even one type of activity. 

“We recommend to people to do the exercise that you like,” said Le Shi, a researcher at Peking University and one of the study’s authors.

A third study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport followed over one-thousand two hundred children between ages seven and fifteen for more than thirty years. Again, the researchers found that the participants with a higher level of cognitive function in midlife were those with higher fitness levels as children.

The three findings indicate that how we move our bodies regularly may accumulate over time. They also lend credence to the hypothesis that regular, lifelong physical activity, in any form, significantly reduces the incidence of dementia, especially among high-risk individuals.

Source: NY Times