beat dementia with exercise

Once we pass a certain age, we stop laughing off little instances of “misremembering” and start to wonder what they mean. “What if it’s the beginning of dementia?” we ask ourselves. It’s a universal concern.

To add to our concerns, there aren’t any very good treatments for dementia. The drugs available may provide some temporary symptomatic relief, but they don’t alter the course of the disease.

This is why recently released research from the journal Neurology has a lot of folks excited. This research showed that women who were reasonably fit in their middle years were far less likely to develop dementia in their later years. 

Let’s break down this study and look at what it is really telling us.

The study into cardiovascular fitness followed 191 women aged 38 to 60 years old beginning in 1968. Of those who were classified as having “low fitness” at the study onset, 32 percent developed dementia over the 44-year follow up period. Of those with “medium fitness” 25 percent developed dementia.

And in the “high fitness” group? Only five percent developed dementia.

That’s a stunning difference, and it appears these women beat dementia with exercise. But lead researcher Helena Hörder, PhD cautions that the study doesn’t necessarily mean there is a cause and effect relationship between fitness level and dementia. However, it does fit with accumulating evidence that exercise can protect brain cells.

Don’t throw your hands up and ask, “Who has time to be highly fit? I’ve got kids and a job and twelve other responsibilities? Now I’m supposed to run a marathon?” Let’s talk about what that group of highly fit individuals actually did for exercise.

These highly fit women were able to exercise at 120 watts on an exercise bike. In non-electrical terms, this is the point where you get out of breath, start to sweat, and it gets difficult to hold a conversation. We’re not talking about sprints and mud run type of activity here.

Basically, exercise opens up the small blood vessels throughout the body so oxygen can better reach all the tissues that need it during exercise. This happens in the brain, too. And this benefit comes long before you are at the starting line for the Boston Marathon.

Getting in a brisk walk, where you breathe a little heavier than normal and feel tired when you’re done, three times per week is a great place to start. If that’s too much for you, start with ten or fifteen minutes. Or even less. You can build it up.

And if you need more information about how to get started with an exercise program, it’s always a great idea to visit with your doctor about easing into a new program. At Hunt Regional Medical Partners, we’d like to discuss that with you. Give us a call to set up an appointment.