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How Dementia Risk and Exercise Are Linked

June 16 2022

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Over the years, many studies have shown a link between exercise and dementia risk for seniors. For example, we now know that walking can help signal potential health risks among older adults. In fact, a recent study of nearly seventeen thousand older people in the US and Australia found a link between walking speed and dementia risk. 


According to the study, dementia risk increased the most among older adults with declining walking speeds and memory. “These results highlight the importance of gait in dementia risk assessment,” writes corresponding author Taya Collyer, a research fellow at Peninsula Clinical School at Monash University in Victoria, Australia.

Impacts of Exercise on Dementia

Fortunately, seniors can help fight dementia risk by taking up regular exercise. For example, aerobic exercise can help increase the size of parts of the brain and help out with memory as well. Doing so can fight brain shrinkage that occurs as people get older and help reverse age-related decline. 


When it comes to lifestyle habits, adopting a regular exercise routine is the best thing seniors can do to reduce their risk of getting dementia. In fact, studies show that regular exercise can lower dementia risk by approximately thirty percent. When it comes to Alzheimer’s disease, exercise can reduce the risk by forty-five percent, almost half! Exercises such as walking, swimming, biking, and dancing are all examples of aerobic exercises that can bring these desired benefits. 

Cold water swimming in particular has been identified as an exercise that could be useful at reducing dementia risk. Recent research studies have shown a link between swimming in cold water and a healthier brain. Doing so could potentially slow age-related cognitive decline and even offer clues to future cures for dementia. Scientists know that a cool body can slow cell destruction and protect important synapses in the brain that help human beings function properly.

How Exercise Helps Senior Cognition

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A month or more of regular aerobic exercise has been shown to improve memory, attention, and processing speed in clinical trials. For healthy seniors willing to exercise several times a week for thirty to sixty minutes, the following benefits may occur:


  • Sharpened thinking, reasoning, and learning skills 

  • Boosts in memory, reasoning, judgment and thinking skills (cognitive function) for those with mild Alzheimer’s disease or mild cognitive impairment

  • Delayed start of Alzheimer’s for those at risk of developing the disease (or slow progress)

  • Increased brain size in the hippocampus region (associated with memory formation)


Exercising helps the brain keep blood flowing to important areas needed for keeping dementia at bay. Working out also helps increase chemicals that protect the brain and build neural connections that tend to decline during the aging process. 


In addition to these benefits, aerobic exercises like walking can help seniors improve their mental health as well. Endorphins from physical activity can help boost mood levels and lower anxiety. These benefits can be strengthened even more by going on walks with friends or loved ones or by walking in nature.


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As you can see, exercise can play an important role in both preventing and understanding dementia risk. Aerobic workouts such as walking and swimming can help keep the brain sharp and reduce shrinkage that occurs in the mind during the aging process.


In addition to helping with dementia, exercising can bring other benefits to seniors looking to stay healthy. This includes improved mental health, opportunities for socialization, boosts in cardiovascular health, and lower levels of joint pain.

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