More evidence that exercise can be a protective factor for dementia

Two studies, presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference 2014, have concluded that physical activity at certain points of life may help to reduce the risk of dementia.

Posted on 13th July 2014

Two studies, presented at Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2014, looking at the effect of exercise on dementia have concluded that being physically active at certain points of life may help to reduce the risk of the condition. Both studies used participants from the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging group and focused on mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a condition which involves small but noticeable memory loss. Not all patients with MCI will go on to develop dementia, but the risk of developing the condition is higher.

One study, by researchers at the Mayo Clinic in the US, followed people who did not have memory problems and determined whether exercise was associated with their risk of developing MCI. The researchers found that people who did light or vigorous exercise in midlife had a decreased risk of developing MCI. Moderate exercise in late life was also associated with reduced MCI risk.

The other study, led by researchers at the University of Groningen Medical School and the Mayo Clinic in the US, investigated whether doing light, moderate or vigorous exercise in mid or late life could affect the risk of someone with MCI going on to develop dementia. The study concluded that people who did moderate exercise in midlife had a decreased risk of developing dementia. In contrast to the first study, light or vigorous exercise in either mid or late life was not associated with dementia risk.

Rebecca Wood, Chief Executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, said:

“There has been increasing evidence over the last few years that exercise can be beneficial in reducing the risk of dementia. This research adds to previous evidence bu`t also highlights the complexity of dementia risk factors as different intensities of exercise seem to hold benefits at specific stages of life. A limitation of the research is that the level of exercise was self-reported, meaning that the definitions of moderate or vigorous exercise may vary from person to person.

“While it’s still unclear what type of exercise is most beneficial, and at what stage of life, it is clear that keeping active throughout life is important. Evidence suggests that having a healthy lifestyle including not smoking, a balanced diet and maintaining a healthy weight alongside regular exercise is the best way to keep your brain healthy. This research indicates that it is never too late to begin exercising if you are not already active.”

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