Often I am asked if there’s something we can do to prevent or slow down the onslaught of Alzheimer’s or dementia. The answer is yes, there is. And it’s something we all can do. Sadly, it’s not news. I heard it first when I was in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2012, for the International Conference on Positive Aging. A researcher from Australia spoke about how exercise has been shown to protect your brain – even if it’s just a ten-minute walk a few times a week.

Here’s what we know so far:

Taking your brain for a walk: the secret to delaying dementia. The Guardian, Feb. 2, 2014.

One hundred people between the ages of 60 and 80 who admitted to getting little or no exercise were recruited to see the effects of walking. Half of them walked 30 – 45 minutes three times a week. The other half did stretching exercises.

Over one year, those who walked showed an increase of 2 – 3 percent in the size of their brain regions linked to planning and memory. Those who stretched saw less, but still an increase. Normally doctors expect to see shrinkage in that age group over a year, but just a little exercise resulted in increases rather than losses. ~

Our brains and cognitive functions are malleable – we can improve them – even if all we do is stretch.

One hour of exercise a week can halve dementia risk. The Telegraph, Jul. 13, 2014.

Inactivity tops the list of factors increasing the risk of dementia. After examining close to a decade of studies, researchers at Cambridge University announced that the risk of developing dementia can be cut almost in half with just one hour a week of exercise. Reduced blood flow to the heart also results in reduced blood flow to the brain.

People who do not get at least one hour of exercise per week are 82 percent more likely to develop dementia. ~

Physical Exercise Reduces Psychiatric Symptoms of Alzheimer’s in Four-Month Study. Alzheimer’s Association news release, July 23, 2015.

In a Danish study, 200 people with Alzheimer’s age 50 – 90 were either put into a supervised aerobic exercise program or given no exercise at all. A range of factors related to Alzheimer’s disease were studied. No differences in cognitive performance were noted between the two groups.

However, during the 16-week study, those in the exercise program experienced less anxiety, irritability, and depression (neuropsychiatric symptoms) while those with no exercise experienced an increase in those same neuropsychiatric symptoms. ~

Aerobic Exercise Reduces Tau Protein in Older Adults with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). Alzheimer’s Association news release, July 23, 2015.

Higher levels of tau proteins in the brain are associated with faster rates of decline in Alzheimer’s-related dementia. Regular aerobic exercise for people with MCI is already known to benefit cognition and lower plaques in the brain. This study was conducted by researchers from Wake Forest School of Medicine over a six-month period with 65 sedentary adults aged 55 – 89 years of age.

Participants who took part in the aerobic exercise saw a statistically significant reduction in tau levels. Aerobic exercise increased blood flow in the memory and processing centers of their brains, with a corresponding improvement in executive functions. ~

We already know that staying mobile is the key to staying healthy, and that getting regular exercise will protect us from diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. So let’s get moving. Research has shown that it’s good for our brains, too.

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