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Published on: October 27, 2018
by Women’s Brain Health Initiative:
We know that physical activity is critical to a healthy lifestyle. Exercise helps with muscle strengthening, physical control and coordination, but, most importantly, it helps maintain good blood flow to the brain and may encourage new brain cell growth and survival. Research now suggests that physical exercise can reduce the risk of developing dementia, further confirming the long-believed connection between physical fitness, heart health, and cognitive function.
In fact, a study published in the journal Neurology in early 2018 found that WOMEN WITH HIGHER CARDIOVASCULAR FITNESS AT MIDLIFE WERE LESS LIKELY TO DEVELOP DEMENTIA LATER IN LIFE.
The study involved a group of 191 women who were followed over the course of 44 years, and the results included the following:
5% of women with high cardiovascular fitness at midlife developed dementia;
25% of women with medium cardiovascular fitness at midlife developed dementia; and
32% of women who had the lowest cardiovascular fitness at midlife developed dementia by the end of the study.
The few “highly fit” women who did develop dementia only became symptomatic around the age of 90, which was 11 years later than the “moderately fit” participants in the study. “I’m very surprised that the finding was so strong,” said Ingmar Skoog, the senior author of the study and a Psychiatry Professor at The University of Gothenburg in Sweden. “It really shows the importance of exercise. Alzheimer’s and other dementias are believed to begin 15-20 years before symptoms even appear, so it makes sense that exercising in mid-life would affect the risk.” While exercise alone is not likely to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, the study demonstrates that individuals are not helpless in the face of one of the most feared diseases of old age.
Exactly how much exercise is required? And what kind of activity is best to maximize results? According to a report recently published by Western University in London, Ontario, even a ten-minute aerobic workout can measurably boost one’s brain power, improving both problem-solving skills and the ability to focus. “Some people can’t commit to a long-term exercise regime because of time or physical capacity. This study shows that people can cycle or walk briskly for a short duration, even once, and find immediate benefits,” noted Kinesiology Professor Matthew Heath, who took part in conducting the study.
Recognizing that an active lifestyle can improve your brain health (even if it is for as little as ten minutes a day), with the real possibility of significantly lowering your risk of dementia over time, should encourage women to engage in some proactive and preventative behaviours.
Women’s Brain Health Initiative has had the wonderful opportunity to work with Dr. Jennifer Heisz, an Assistant Professor in Kinesiology at McMaster University. Dr. Heisz’s research has long examined the effects of physical activity on brain function to promote mental health and cognition in young adults, older adults, and individuals with Alzheimer’s disease. Her current research includes developing physical activity guidelines for the prevention and management of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
Some of the most exciting results of her research focus on prevention. “We have found that older adults who exercise early in life, reduce their risk of developing dementia later in life. And physical inactivity is the greatest modifiable risk factor for dementia.” Furthermore, her research experience suggests that a woman’s physical activity level can influence her dementia risk as much as her genetics.
“YOU CAN’T CHANGE YOUR GENES, BUT YOU CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFESTYLE,” Dr. Heisz added. “Engaging in exercise programs at critical stages will extend autonomy, improve quality of life, and ultimately keep more aging Canadians healthier for longer.”
In a 2015 paper published by Dementia Australia entitled “Physical Exercise and Dementia,” the authors discussed the various benefits of engaging in physical exercise. As the authors observe, individuals who exercise regularly are less likely to experience heart disease and stroke – both of which are associated with an increased risk of developing dementia. Exercise is also essential in reducing the risk of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and obesity, all of which are risk factors for dementia. Several prospective studies (where large groups of people are followed up over time) have found that higher levels of physical exercise are associated with less cognitive decline in older adults. Other studies have found that individuals who exercise experience a slower loss of brain tissue as they age.
While more research is being conducted to better understand the relationship between dementia and exercise, regular exercise is recommended as a key strategy for maintaining good physical health, helping to keep the aging brain healthy, and reducing cognitive decline. Of course, you should always consult your doctor before starting any exercise program, particularly where there are other illnesses or disabilities to consider.
Breaking up your work day with short exercise breaks can stimulate the brain to help improve your creativity, focus, and efficiency.
TIP: Activate your mind to improve your focus. Every time you find your mind wandering away from your task, take an exercise break. These breaks could include standing up and stretching, walking to get a drink of water or coffee, or doing a few flights of stairs. This simple act of incorporating exercise into your work day can help you work smarter and more efficiently.
Chronic stress damages brain cells in the hippocampus. Exercise protects your brain against this damage. It does this by growing new brain cells.
TIP: 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise three times per week is best for your mental health.
Exercise is an investment in your future brain health.
Individuals who are inactive have a similar risk of developing dementia as if they were born with a genetic predisposition to Alzheimer’s disease. You can’t change your genes, but you can change your lifestyle.
TIP: It can be as simple as walking three times per week. And the earlier you start the better!
There is one very important thing about using lifestyle to promote brain health: you actually have to do it.
The physical activity guidelines recommend getting 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous aerobic activity per week. In other words, being active once in a while is not enough. Physical activity needs to be built into our schedule, every week.
TIP: Use a calendar to mark the details of your workout ahead of time, including specifics such as when, where, what, and with whom.
Source: MIND OVER MATTER V7
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