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Exercise Keeps Dementia at Bay: Running and Walking 'Significantly' Boosts Brain Power

Just 45 minutes of intensive exercise a day is the key to keeping dementia at bay, a new study shows.

Running, walking, yoga and tai chi have all been shown to “significantly” boost brain power in the over 50s. But experts say almost any exercise leaving you breathless helps with the benefits evident irrespective of the current state of someone’s brain health. Research by a team of respected Australian scientists confirm what is good for the heart is also good for the brain. The team behind the remarkable findings said evidence was strong enough to recommend prescribing certain exercises to improve cognitive function.

Professor Joseph Northey, of the University of Canberra Research Institute for Sport and Exercise, said: “The findings suggest an exercise program with components of both aerobic and resistance-type training, of at least moderate intensity and at least 45 minutes per session, on as many days of the week as possible, is beneficial to cognitive function in adults aged over 50.”

Researchers reviewed the records of 12,820 people in their 50s from 39 trials who were given supervised exercise programs, including aerobic exercise, resistance training, multi-component exercise, containing elements of aerobic and resistance training, tai chi and yoga. They found taking up moderate or vigorous exercise improved brain capacity, the ability to process information quickly and memory.

Aerobic exercise, like running, swimming or walking, significantly enhanced cognitive abilities while resistance training, like weights, had a “pronounced effect” on working memory.

Yoga and tai chi also improved mental function which is seen as important as they are types of exercise suitable for those unable to undertake more challenging forms of activity.

Analysis showed a session of moderate to vigorous intensity and lasting between 45 and 60 minutes was the best for brain health. Dr. David Reynolds, Chief Scientific Officer at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “Regular exercise has a whole range of health benefits and can play an important role in keeping our brains healthy as we age. "This review underscores the link between exercise and brain health and, in line with guidance from the NHS, supports the idea both strength exercises and aerobic activity can be beneficial for people as they get older. “While these different types of exercise had positive effects on brain function, they had to be at least moderately intensive – the kind of activity that raises your heart rate and leave you at least slightly out of breath.”

Doctors have long warned against the dangers of prolonged periods of inactivity with the average person now spending nine hours a day sat down at work, in a car and on the sofa in the evening. Research suggests a sedentary lifestyle can trigger chronic conditions like obesity, heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer, muscular and back issues, deep vein thrombosis, depression and dementia. Millions think exercise means spending hours in the gym but the reality is a brisk walk, a game of tennis or swimming all form part of an active lifestyle.

The British Heart Foundation recommends at least 150 minutes of exercise each week but the majority of us fail to achieve this basic target. In research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine today, Professor Northey said, “Physical exercise shows promise as a modifiable risk factor to reduce the risk of dementia and related neurodegenerative diseases.” He added, “This analysis provides clinicians with evidence to recommend patients obtain both aerobic and resistance exercise of at least moderate intensity on as many days of the week as feasible, in line with current exercise guidelines.”

Dr. Doug Brown, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Society, said, “The benefits of regular exercise to keep a sharp mind are becoming clearer. "Previous studies show people who exercise are less likely to develop dementia, but more research is needed to find out exactly what type and how much exercise is best to help reduce your risk of the condition.”

Research revealed by the Daily Express showed almost half of us fear dementia more than any other condition. But a poll carried out for Alzheimer’s society showed only a fifth of people realized it results in death.


For more information about dementia and local services call Memory Matters Utah/Nevada at 435-319-0407. Memory Matters is a 501(C)(3) non-profit organization providing services in southern Utah and Mesquite, Nevada.

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