Active Seniors

Dementia and Exercise

Leading a physically active life has been shown beyond doubt to have positive effects on physical health, but what is often neglected are its influences on mental health. In recent times, there has been a growing body of evidence suggesting that exercise can assist in the treatment and prevention of Dementia.

Dementia is a disease affecting the brain whereby nerve tissue degenerates, leading to the deterioration of memory, cognitive skills, mood, behaviour and the ability to carry out activities of daily living. As such, dementia sufferers often lose their independence and require full time care.

Although the exact cause of dementia is still unknown, it has been strongly linked to Type 2 Diabetes, insulin resistance and increased adipose (fat) tissue. Individuals with Type 2 Diabetes and increased levels of body fat are more likely to develop dementia. In addition type 2 diabetes and increased levels of body fat are also commonly associated with many other metabolic conditions (such as cardiovascular disease) and psychological disorders. A combination of regular exercise and healthy eating will help to improve blood sugar control and reduce body fat thereby reducing the chances of developing dementia in advanced age.

Exercise has also been shown to have a positive effect on the quality of life of those living with dementia. Multiple studies carried out over the past dozen years have shown  that people with dementia who perform regular exercise benefit from a reduction in depression levels, improved physical and cognitive function, and reduced falls. These improvements were seen after as little as 1 hour of exercise a week although it is still recommended to exercise at least 150 minutes a week.

Dementia has traditionally been a difficult disorder to diagnose, and in fact it is often not diagnosed or treated until people are in the advanced stages of dementia. Memory loss and changes in mood or behaviour can commonly be attributed to increased stress or simply a result of aging. For that reason, it is important to adopt and maintain a healthy and physically active lifestyle from a young age.

By Andrew Yehson from University of Sydney

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