Healthcare professionals routinely encourage us to get out there and exercise. The benefits of an active lifestyle are legion—reduced weight, an efficient heart, healthy lungs and a general sense of well-being. Research also suggests that exercise during middle age may help stave off dementia and may even be an important preventative measure against Alzheimer's disease.
Dementia and Alzheimer's are two diseases typically associated with old age. As the population in western countries experiences a longer life span, problems associated with cognitive abilities in old age appear to be on the rise.
There are many types of dementia and the causes are not always properly identified. Alzheimer's is the most common form, and it is characterized as a progressive brain disorder that destroys a person's memory, causes irritability and depression, and severely inhibits one's quality of life. Dementia is difficult not only for the patient, but also for their loved ones.
But, you can slow the onset of age-related disease.
Although there is no cure, consensus suggests there is a host of preventative measures to stop or slow the onset of dementia. A recent study by the Karolinska Institute based in Stockholm, Sweden, published in the online edition of Lancet Neurology, shows that exercise may be the most important way to prevent the disease.
The large-scale study looked at dementia and Alzheimer's in 1500 patients over the age of 65. Each research subject had their exercise habits monitored for the last 35 years. Researchers found that middle-aged participants who exercised at least twice a week were 50 percent less likely to develop dementia, and 60 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer's than those who did not exercise. These numbers show an astonishing distinction between physically active and sedentary individuals when it comes to brain health.
As little as 30 minutes of activity three times a week may be enough to stave off a host of health issues, not least of which is dementia and Alzheimer's. As busy as our lives may be, we need to ensure that physical activity becomes an intrinsic part of our weekly routines.
Several studies have linked heart health with vascular dementia. Diabetes and stroke are also factors causing cognitive difficulties. Again, these can often be prevented by lifestyle choices—healthy food, not smoking, moderate alcohol consumption and, of course, exercise.
There's no avoiding it—exercise benefits every muscle in the body, including the one between our ears.