A new study shows that older people who regularly engage in physical activity reduce their risk of dementia.
The study, published this week in the journal Stroke, showed that by regularly exercising, older, non-disabled people can reduce their risk of vascular-related dementia by 40%, and their risk of cognitive impairment of any cause by 60%. These effects were independent of age, education, changes in the brain’s white matter, or even a previous history of diabetes or stroke. Researchers stated that the findings are part of an increasing body of evidence that shows physical activity promotes brain health.
“We strongly suggest physical activity of moderate intensity at least 30 minutes three times a week to prevent cognitive impairment,” said Dr. Ana Verdelho, lead author of the study and a neuroscience researcher at the University of Lisbon, Santa Maria Hospital. “This is particularly important for people with vascular risk factors such as hypertension, stroke or diabetes.”
The study looked at 639 people in a prospective multinational European study aged 60 to 70 years old. They were given yearly comprehensive cognitive assessments for three years. 55% of the patients were women and almost 64% stated that they were active for at least 30 minutes a day three times a week. At the beginning and end of the study, researchers performed MRI tests on the patients to study the white matter changes in their brains.
“Damage of the cerebral white matter is implicated in cognitive problems including depression, walking difficulties and urinary complaints,” said Verdelho. “White matter changes are very common in older people and mainly associated with vascular risk factors like hypertension and stroke.”
After three years, 90 of the patients had dementia. 54 with vascular dementia, which stems from impaired blood flow to the brain, and 34 patients met the criteria for Alzheimer’s disease.
For optimal health, the American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week.