As scientists continue working to develop medications and search for tools to help individuals elude dementia, several recently published studies confirm that exercise is a very effective method to retain memory and keep the brain vibrant.
Nathan LeBrasseur, director of a center of aging at the Mayo Clinic, calls exercise “the most promising tool that we have” for enabling individuals to continue functioning well as they age.
The recent studies postulate that regular exercise, of almost any type, can diminish the risk of dementia.
“Vigorous exercise seems to be best, but even non-traditional exercise, such as doing household chores, can offer a significant benefit,” the New York Times wrote of the studies in August. “And, surprisingly, it’s just as effective at reducing the risk in those with a family history of dementia.”
A long-term British study of just over half a million participants that took into consideration genetic factors and family histories found the risk of dementia was reduced by 35 percent among those who regularly took part in “vigorous” exercise. Yet even for those who participated in less robust exercises, such as household chores, the risk was diminished by 21 percent. A second study that involved more than 2 million participants and that, like the first, was published in the journal, Neurology, reported that those who took part in activities like walking, running, swimming, dancing, and other sports, or working out in a gym, had a 17 percent less chance of suffering dementia.
“It’s very important to know that if you have a family history of dementia, you can use physical activity to reduce your risk,” said one of the British study’s authors, Dr. Huan Song, a researcher with West China Hospital of Sichuan University.
Research has shown that exercise works to curtail dementia because it helps rid the body’s immune system of senescent cells that create molecular damage as people age.
A third study followed children aged 7-15 for 30 years and found those most fit as children had superior cognitive functioning when they reached middle age. The conclusion was that a life of regular physical activity results in a healthier brain.
Researchers further point out that exercise not only can benefit cognitive health but also can extend an individual’s life span. A study published recently in the British Journal of Sports Medicine said the mortality risk of people engaging in “vigorous aerobic activity” once a week dropped by 15 percent, and for those who spent three hours a week in vigorous exercise, the rate dropped by 27 percent.
“Your brain is part of your body and is going to benefit from anything you do that is good for your general health,” said Dr. Sandra Weintraub, a neurologist with Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.