Maintaining an active lifestyle in older age could prevent dementia

A new study conducted at Rush University Medical Center has found that keeping active in older age may help to maintain memory and thinking skills and reduce the risk of dementia.

Old people exercising - By Tom WangTom Wang | Shutterstock

In a study of 454 older individuals (191 with dementia and 263 without), those who were more active than average had better memory and thinking skills than those who were less active than average. This was observed even in participants who displayed physical signs of dementia, such as brain lesions or biomarkers of the disease.

People who moved more had better thinking and memory skills compared to those who were more sedentary and did not move much at all.”

Dr. Aron Buchman, Lead Author

As recently reported in the journal Neurology, the participants underwent yearly physical exams as well as memory and thinking tests over the course of 20 years.

They had agreed to donate their brains for research upon their death, which occurred at an average of 91 years.

At an average of two years prior to death, Buchman and team gave each participant a wrist-worn accelerometer that would monitor their physical activity 24 hours a day, including anything from walking around the house to engaging in more vigorous exercise.

Analysis of the participants average daily activity scores showed that more daily movement was associated with improved thinking and memory skills, compared with less daily movement.

The analysis also showed that participants who demonstrated better motor skills (which aid movement and coordination) scored higher on memory and thinking tests.

We measured levels of physical activity in study participants an average of two years prior to their deaths, and then examined their donated brain tissue after death, and found that a more active lifestyle may have a protective effect on the brain.”

Dr. Aron Buchman, Lead Author

Further analysis showed that each standard deviation increase in physical activity was associated with a 31% decreased likelihood of developing dementia. It also showed that each standard deviation increase in motor ability was associated with a 55% decreased likelihood of developing dementia.

Post-mortem analysis of the participants’ donated brain tissue showed that this association between increased physical activity and better test scores remained, even after adjustment for brain lesion severity and the presence of biomarkers for Alzheimer’s.

"Exercise is an inexpensive way to improve health, and our study shows it may have a protective effect on the brain," says Buchman.

However, it should be noted that the study does not provide evidence of cause and effect, he adds: "It may also be possible that as people lose memory and thinking skills, they reduce their physical activity. More studies are needed to determine if moving more is truly beneficial to the brain."

Sally Robertson

Written by

Sally Robertson

Sally has a Bachelor's Degree in Biomedical Sciences (B.Sc.). She is a specialist in reviewing and summarising the latest findings across all areas of medicine covered in major, high-impact, world-leading international medical journals, international press conferences and bulletins from governmental agencies and regulatory bodies. At News-Medical, Sally generates daily news features, life science articles and interview coverage.

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