Exercise and Dementia

brain exercising with weights on a light green background

In recent years, there‘s been an increasing amount of research on the role of exercise in benefiting cognitive health.


Sadly, though, according to the CDC, less than 15% of adults aged 65 and over get the recommended amount of aerobic exercise each week. 


This sedentary lifestyle can lead to a host of health problems, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and even dementia.


On top of that, dementia is a condition that affects millions of people around the world. And the numbers are only increasing as the population ages.


While there’s no cure for dementia, recent research has shown that exercise may be one of the most effective treatments available for people with dementia.


A growing body of evidence suggests that exercise can help to prevent or delay its onset. It may also improve cognitive function in those who have already been diagnosed with the condition.


In this article, we’ll explore how exercise reduces the risk of dementia, as well as the effects of exercise on dementia patients.


4 Ways Exercise Reduces the Risk of Dementia

#1 Promotes Brain Plasticity

Exercise has a host of benefits for the body, but new research is showing that it may also be beneficial for the brain.


A recent study found that exercise reduces the risk of dementia by promoting brain plasticity. Brain plasticity, or neuroplasticity, refers to the brain’s ability to change and adapt in response to new stimulation.


This is important because it allows the brain to compensate for changes that occur with age, injury, or disease. The study found that exercise increases the level of a protein called BDNF, which helps to promote brain plasticity and overall health.


All in all, exercise encourages the growth of new nerve cells and connections in the brain, which can help to offset some of the cognitive decline that occurs with age.


#2 Increases Blood Flow to Your Brain

Exercise increases your heart rate and gets the blood flowing to all parts of your body, including your brain.


When you exercise, your heart rate increases and your blood vessels dilate. This allows more blood to flow to your brain, providing it with the oxygen and nutrients it needs to function properly.


For instance, a recent study has shown that it’s never too late to start reaping the benefits of moderate aerobic exercise. In the study, 16 women aged 60 and older who engaged in brisk walking for 30-50 minutes three or four times per week saw an improvement in blood flow to the brain of up to 15%.


exercising 3 to 4 times a week can improve cerebral blood flow by 15%


While the study was small, it still provides hope that exercise can be a helpful preventative measure against dementia.


#3 Reduces Inflammation

Chronic inflammation has been linked to a variety of diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.


And exercise has been shown to be a powerful anti-inflammatory agent. A recent study found that exercise reduces brain inflammation and the structural changes that make the blood-brain barrier leaky. 


These effects were seen in mice, and they provide a potential explanation for the beneficial effects of exercise on dementia in humans. Other research shows that even a 20-minute workout can produce anti-inflammatory effects on the brain.


These findings suggest that exercise may be a helpful intervention for dementia prevention, and they underscore the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle and staying fit.


#4 Keeps Insulin & BMI Levels Low

A new study published in the medical journal Neurology suggests that exercise may help protect brain cells and stave off dementia. 


The research looked at the relationship between exercise, insulin levels, and body mass index (BMI) and found that exercise may help keep these levels in check, which in turn helps preserve brain volume.


They examined data from over 130 people with an average age of 69 who did not have dementia. The researchers found that those who exercised more had more grey matter in their brains. Grey matter is important for brain function, and its loss is a major risk factor for dementia.


Models representing the correlation between BMI levels, grey matter, hippocampal volume and physical activity
Physical activity impacts both insulin and BMI levels, which help preserve grey matter and hippocampal volume.


While more research is needed to confirm these findings, the new study provides strong evidence that exercise may help protect against dementia by preserving brain volume.


Now that we’ve established that exercise can reduce your risk of developing dementia by up to 33%, let’s take a look at how exercise can help those who have already been diagnosed.

Does Exercise Help Dementia Patients?

The effects of exercise on dementia have been studied for years, as scientists struggle to find treatment.


But the answer is — yes — there is hope. Exercise does help those diagnosed with dementia.


A recent study found that exercise can help improve cognitive function and exercise capacity in senile dementia patients. The participants regularly exercised for a year, and their cognitive function, activities of daily living and exercise capacity levels were evaluated at baseline, 6 and 12 months.


The findings showed that regular exercise can not only improve cardiopulmonary function, muscle strength, muscle size, endurance, flexibility and agility, but also enhance cognition.


effects of exercise on dementia: boosts muscle strength, improves functioning of the heart and lungs, builds endurance, improves flexibility, improves agility, enhances cognitive function


And it seems that cardio exercise is especially beneficial in reducing brain atrophy and the build-up of amyloid-beta in the brain — a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.


So, if you or a loved one is suffering from dementia, it’s important to stay active and exercise regularly. It may not completely halt the progression of the disease, but it can help improve their quality of life.

Protect Your Brain With Exercise

Although more research is needed, the evidence currently suggests that exercise can play an important role in preventing dementia and improving cognitive function in those who have already been diagnosed.


Here’s how exercise will help reduce your risk of dementia:


  • #1 Promotes brain plasticity — exercise aids the synthesis of protein that helps you create new neural pathways
  • #2 Increases blood flow to your brain — get your heart pumping and increase the amount of oxygen and nutrients that reach your brain
  • #3 Reduces brain inflammation — even 20 minutes of exercising can reduce inflammation
  • #4 Keeps insulin & BMI levels low — these factors help preserve your grey matter and hippocampal volume.


So start reaping the benefits of exercise by adding some simple activity into your routine, like taking a brisk walk around the block or doing some light housework. 


With a little effort, you can overcome any barriers to start exercising as it becomes a part of your day-to-day routine. And as always, be sure to check with your doctor before starting any new exercise routine.


Leverage the power of exercise to preserve your cognitive health as you age.

What's Your Retirement Purpose?

These 10 questions can make all the difference