Dementia risk and aerobic exercise

Aerobic exercise can play a significant part in reducing the likelihood of dementia, new research has demonstrated. The study, published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, showed activities that serve to get the heart pumping might lower the risk of the condition developing and slow its progression once it begins.

Investigators said the findings demonstrate physical exertion should not be overlooked as a way of helping to keep a person's cognitive abilities preserved.

They defined such activity as anything that increases the heart rate and raises the body's need for oxygen, which might include gym sessions, walking or even manual tasks such as raking leaves.

J. Eric Ahlskog, a neurologist at Mayo Clinic, said: "You can make a very compelling argument for exercise as a disease-modifying strategy to prevent dementia and mild cognitive impairment and for favourably modifying these processes once they have developed."

Lindsay Royan, a Chartered Psychologist, comments:

“There is consistent research evidence that regular aerobic exercise can contribute to a healthy later life. The biggest risk factor for dementia is increasing age, so maximising health and well-being particularly from middle age onwards is associated with reduced risks for developing dementia.  Improved cardiac and respiratory function and the maintenance of muscle bulk as well as flexibility are critical factors for physical health. Aerobic exercise can contribute to reducing the vascular risk factors that are known to increase dementia risk substantially.

"This is not the whole story, however; positive physical health also supports mobility and a sense of well-being, which are, in turn, critical in enabling social contact and engagement to be maintained.  Having a sense of purpose, connecting with others, and being valued are also thought to reduce the risk of dementia and depression in later life.

"Older people who are socially active tend to report a higher quality of life than those who spend more time on their own or have few interests.Raking the leaves, for example, in addition to providing necessary exercise benefits may also be a social activity and one that produces a positive and appreciated outcome. The way to health is not just through pounding away on stationary bicycles in a gym; a brisk walk in the countryside, if enjoyed, can bring similar benefits.”