Regular Exercise to Avoid Dementia?

Dementia was less likely in people that exercised at least three times a week

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Exercising three times a week for at least 30 minutes can keep your heart healthy. It may also help you avoid dementia. A recent study tracked elderly people who felt their memory was failing.

Over a three year study, elderly people that exercised regularly were about half as likely to develop mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or dementia.

This means that exercise is good for your mental health, regardless of age.

"Ask a therapist which exercise is best."

Researchers, led by Ana Verdelho, MD, of the Department of Neurosciences at the University of Lisbon in Portugal, enrolled 639 people between the ages of 65 and 84.

They did interviews once a year for three years. At the interviews they asked about physical activity levels and did a test for dementia. The researchers also took a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan of their brains at the beginning and end of the study.

All of the people in the study had changes in their brains linked to age-related memory and thinking problems. None of the people in the study had dementia or MCI at the start of the study. During the study, 90 people developed dementia, and 147 developed MCI.

When the researchers looked at people who were physically active compared to those who were not, they found that being active lowered the risk of dementia.

Being physically active was defined by the American Heart Association standards as 30 minutes of exercise at least 3 times a week. People who reported this level of exercise were about half as likely to develop MCI or dementia during the three year study period.

The researchers also looked at brain tissue health, age and stroke history – all factors that are related to the risk of dementia. Regular exercise was protective even for people with these risk factors.

The researchers concluded that regular physical exercise can lower the risk for dementia for elderly people. The authors of the study did say that the study was limited because it only looked at people who had made a complaint about their memory.

So how exercise affects the risk of dementia for people with no memory problems remains unknown.

This study was published in the December issue of Stroke. The study was funded by the European Union. The authors report not competing interests.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 4, 2012
Last Updated:
November 9, 2012