how staying active can lower dementia risk

Staying fit doesn’t just benefit us physically – it also keeps our brains functioning better as we age. Here are some of the ways staying fit can prevent dementia, which affects 1 in 6 people over 80.

Every year in the UK, 225,000 people develop dementia. That means one person is diagnosed every three minutes.  And this number is on the rise. There are currently 850,000 people living with dementia. This number is expected to reach 1m by 2025, and 2m by 2051. 

The biggest risk factor for developing dementia is something that can't be prevented – getting older. Statistics suggest one in six people over 80 have dementia.  

But the good news is, there are things you can do to reduce your risk. And one of these things is staying physically active. 

keeping active 

The Alzheimer's Society suggests that being active for at least 30 minutes, five times a week can help prevent you from developing dementia.  

The aim is to be active enough to get slightly out of breath and raise your heart rate.  

And it's never too late to start - regular physical exercise such as walking, cycling, swimming, or dancing reduces the risk of developing dementia in middle-aged and older adults. 

The Alzheimer's Research & Prevention Foundation even claims that being physically active can slow further deterioration in people who’ve already started to develop brain function problems.  

As well as moderate-intensity exercise such as walking or swimming, the charity recommends two to three sessions a week where you work on developing your muscle strength, along with balance and co-ordination exercises such as yoga, tai chi, or exercises using balance balls. 

how does being physically active benefit your brain?  

Exercise protects against Alzheimer's disease by stimulating the brain's ability to maintain old connections and make new ones. 

A new study, carried out by researchers from Goethe University in Frankfurt, and involving 60 participants between 65 and 85, examined the effects of regular exercise on brain metabolism and memory. 

Some of the participants followed an aerobic training programme by working out on exercise bikes for 30 minutes, three times a week for 12 weeks, while others did nothing.  

Before the exercise programme started, the participants had their fitness levels and cognitive performance assessed. They also had scans to determine their brain metabolism and structure.  

After the 12 weeks were over, they were examined again to find out if - and to what extent - exercise had affected their physical fitness and brain metabolism. 

Normally in cases of Alzheimer's disease, there’s an increased loss of nerve cells in the brain. This is accompanied by a rise in the concentration of a substance in the brain called choline, which is a marker of neurodegeneration. 

After 12 weeks, those who completed the exercise programme were found to have stable cerebral choline concentrations, but those who didn't exercise showed increased choline levels. 

The exercise group also enjoyed improved physical fitness. The researchers concluded that regular physical exercise not only boosts fitness, but also has a protective effect on the brain.  

If you're thinking of starting an exercise programme, always consult your doctor beforehand if you're new to exercise, haven't been very active lately, or if you have a medical condition. 

Looking for the healthy option? Go to our guide on creating a healthy balanced diet or sign up for our courses here.  

get in touch 

As an occupational charity, we help the ICAEW community thrive by equipping individuals with the practical, emotional, or financial tools to manage whatever’s in front of them, from everyday situations to exceptional life-changing circumstances.  

Our vision is that everyone in the ICAEW community can fully participate in life. 

All of our services are free, impartial and strictly confidential. 

We also work in partnership with Dementia UK to provide our community with access to Admiral Nurses via Dementia UK's Admiral Nursing Direct helpline. 

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