Dementia, a chronic condition that impacts memory and cognitive ability, affects over 35 million people world-wide with another 7.7 million new cases every year. As the average age continues to increase over the coming decades, healthcare professionals expect this number to rise. While there are a few identifiable causes of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease and stroke, there are many people who suffer from dementia with no identifiable cause. Moreover, treatment is limited with few cures that can actually minimize its progressive worsening over time.
Recent studies, however, suggest that exercise may just be a panacea for dementia prevention and treatment.
A systematic review, published in The Cochrane Library, notes that there are discernible benefits of exercising for those with dementia. For those who already suffer from dementia, exercise appears to improve cognitive functioning, including the ability to complete daily tasks. While more research is still needed, researchers are optimistic that introducing an exercise regimen could help improve the lives of those with dementia, as well as their caretakers.
In addition, a 35 year study out of Wales found conclusive evidence of the benefit of exercise for preventing dementia. This large-scale study followed over 2,000 men to track the benefits of select healthy activities on later disease risk. Five key behaviors were tracked: regular exercise, non-smoking, low body weight, a healthy diet, and low alcohol intake. The researchers found that the healthy habit most influential in mitigating dementia risk was exercise.
People who followed at least four of the healthy behaviors had a 60% decline in dementia risk.
Researchers also noted that following a majority of the healthy behaviors resulted in 70% fewer cases of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. These are big results when it comes to disease prevention. As Professor Peter Elwood, a researcher from Cardiff University’s School of Medicine, writes:
What the research shows is that following a healthy lifestyle confers surprisingly large benefits to health–healthy behaviors have a far more beneficial effect than any medical treatment or preventative procedure.
Dr. Doug Brown, another researcher on the study, noted the apparent link this research shows between the body and the mind. As we noted in an earlier review of Spark by Dr. John Ratey, exercise now can have a major impact on cognitive functioning and emotional well-being both now and in the future.
Do you incorporate exercise into your day? How could you get more exercise in?
Image by Mario Mancuso via Flickr