Active Body, Active Mind! Exercise and Dementia prevention

By on June 7, 2018

We know that there are many activities which purport to reduce the risk of developing dementia, but how effective is exercise and dementia prevention? Through a review of a collection of studies published in the journal Neurology, there were two general forms of exercise which stood out.

The review outlined that across both physical and cognitive activities, cardio and strength training proved most effective in reducing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. There was a range of results, with cognitive activities such as reading and doing crossword puzzles reducing the risk by about 35% and 47% respectively. However, adults who exercised for about an hour, three times a week significantly improved their cognitive performance compared to those who did not. The benefits reaped by these participants included better processing speed and superior performance on tests that measure skills such as time management and attention span. 

So, why is cardio and strength training the best way to reduce the risk of dementia prevention and to keep the brain young? Looked at in conjunction with similar studies, the conclusion seems to be that the more frequently you move, the healthier your brain will be, leading to greater brain volume and enhanced cognitive ability. Another key point highlighted across the studies was, “if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.” In order to keep the grey matter in check, it is essential that you practice both cognitive and physical exercises regularly. 

It can be overwhelming trying to figure out where to begin if you haven’t been exercising the brain regularly, but thankfully there is a wealth of tips and tricks freely available to help you make a start. You don’t have to follow a high intensity regimen to reap the cognitive benefits of exercising regularly, even across these studies, exercises such as gentle swimming, walking and gardening were found to boost cognitive abilities. 

However, we don’t have to stick to traditional means of enhancing our cognition. For the technologically-minded, there are many brain training and workout apps out there, specially tailored to seniors. Those can be enhanced with fitness-tracking devices, like watches and wristbands. AARP recently published a study showing the technical devices, such as smartphones and tablets are gaining popularity with boomers. According to AARP, 70% of those over 50 own and use a smartphone regularly and 62% regularly use their laptop. Currently, only 15% of boomers state to use health, fitness and wellness apps and and 24% of boomers say that they’re actively tracking their health and fitness with a technological device. 

Of course, technology can be very frustrating, intimidating and also intrusive – even for younger people. Nevertheless, there are many different benefits to include technology in ones everyday life. Apps, smart-watches and other devices can help everyone to keep up a daily routine and motivate you. Just think of reminders being pushed to your smartphone or smartwatch that motivate you to exercise! They are reminding you to get your 10,000 steps in and motivate you with trophies and medals to keep up the good work. Also, many devices do not only track your fitness goals (such as steps), but also your heart rate, or how many hours you’ve slept. In addition, users can share those data also with their families, whcích gives many loved-ones peace of mind. There are also other apps, where you can track your diet and calorie intake. Plus, if you want to eat more healthy, but can’t resist all those yummy temptations in your grocery store, just order your groceries online, with your laptop or smartphone and just pack healthy foods in your cart. Remember, it is never too late to make a lifestyle change and start exercising and follow a healthier diet! 

Dementia, and neurodegenerative conditions in general, is still the subject of ongoing research. Sometimes it can be difficult to know what is best for your health when there are so many contradicting opinions out there. However, the general rule of thumb seems to be that multipart lifestyle intervention, through diet, exercise and practising cognitive exercises, improves both physical and mental health. Taking a proactive approach to your health is vital throughout life, even more so as we approach our senior years, and one of the best things we can do to aid the process is to continue exercising both body and mind. Exercise is a great starting point to improve all aspects of health, both body and mind. Remember, even if it feels daunting, there are many tools out there to help kickstart healthy aging!

 By Susanne Mitschke

About the Author: 

Susanne Mitschke is the CEO of MindMate – an app that provides physical exercises, brain games and nutritional advice for the baby boomer generation. Susanne is an award-winning entrepreneur and has been named as Forbes 30 Under 30 in 2018. 

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Active Body, Active Mind! Exercise and Dementia prevention