Physical exercise may be helpful in lowering the risk of the onset of dementia, and experts say the best time to start adding them to your routine is now.
Health information of over 500,000 people, who did not have dementia when recruited, was analyzed over 11 years for a prospective cohort study published in July 2022. Participants were asked to fill out questionnaires detailing their involvement in physical activities. Their susceptibility to dementia, based on family history, was also tracked.
The risk of developing dementia decreased by 35% for people who regularly participated in vigorous activities like exercise and sports. And doing regular household chores seemed to reduce the risk by 21%.
Even people whose genetic histories were linked to potential risks of dementia could use physical activity to lower their susceptibility, Huan Song, one of the study authors, told the New York Times.
However, physical exercise can only be a safeguard for the onset of dementia, according to Dan Jonhenry, franchise business coach and expert trainer for Retro Fitness.
"It's more of a preventative measure in staying healthy before it gets too late to do so," says Jonhenry, "Right now, there is no cure for dementia or Alzheimer's."
Here are some exercises to consider adding to your routine, according to Jonhenry and Silky Singh Pahlajani, a clinical professor of behavioral neurology and neuropsychiatry at Weill Cornell Medicine.
- Walking or power walking
- Riding a bicycle or exercise bike
- Cardio machines like the elliptical
- Circuit training
Of the different types of exercises, cardio can contribute the most to brain health and help you retain your memories, says Pahlajani.
"I always tell my patients, 'What's good for the heart is good for the brain,'" Pahlajani says. "The goal really is to get the heart rate up, at least for 30 minutes and at least three to four times a week."
Doing moderate aerobic exercise at 70% of your max heart rate can help your body get oxygen to cells within the brain, Jonhenry says. This feeds your brain tissues nutrients and regulates blood flow, he adds.
You can track your heart rate using a heart rate monitor to determine if you've hit the 70% mark.
Elevating your heart rate can require different movements for you than the next person, but a good rule of thumb is any exercise that leads to working up a sweat, Pahlajani says.
"Try and switch it up a little bit and get mentally stimulating activities you can do," says Jonhenry. "Find a hobby that is active, but also continuing to help you learn and know more. That's what they're finding is really helping with brain health."
Interacting with others has also been linked to positive brain health, says Pahlajani. "The physical activity, plus, we don't want to undermine the effect of social stimulation, they run in parallel. So, it's important to do both things and have them cross paths, if possible, and intertwine."
And if you're older, you can still reap the benefits of exercise, including potentially lowering your risk of dementia, according to Pahlajani. In fact, the median age of the participants of the prospective cohort study was around 56 years old at the time of recruitment.
"It's never too late to start exercising," says Pahlajani, "Start somewhere, anywhere, any day. Start slowly and then move your way forward."