Can You Actually Exercise Away Your Risk of Dementia?

There’s an interesting study from Finland in which people over 50 who self-rated their fitness level as poor were four times more likely to develop dementia. This makes sense as science continues to uncover  brain benefits of exercise from cognition to mood.  From an article published online at positscience.com:

According to a study done by the Department of Exercise Science at the University of Georgia, even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions.

Exercise affects the brain on multiple fronts. It increases heart rate, which pumps more oxygen to the brain. It also aids the bodily release of a plethora of hormones, all of which participate in aiding and providing a nourishing environment for the growth of brain cells.

Exercise stimulates the brain plasticity by stimulating growth of new connections between cells in a wide array of important cortical areas of the brain. Recent research from UCLA demonstrated that exercise increased growth factors in the brain- making it easier for the brain to grow new neuronal connections.

From a behavioral perspective, the same antidepressant-like effects associated with “runner’s high” found in humans is associated with a drop in stress hormones. A study from Stockholm showed that the antidepressant effect of running was also associated with more cell growth in the hippocampus, an area of the brain responsible for learning and memory.

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The Finnish study goes on to say

Among people aged about 50, those who self-rate their level of fitness as poor are four times more likely to develop dementia within 30 years than those who say they have a good level of fitness, the study suggests (emph. added).

“Previous research has shown that self-rated health is a strong indicator of adverse health events,” study author Jenni Kulmala, a postdoctoral researcher from the Gerontology Research Center at the University of Jyvaskyla, said in an Academy of Finland news release.

The new study, which followed more than 3,500 adults, “is the first large population-based study investigating associations between self-rated physical fitness during the three decades from midlife to later life and dementia risk,” she said.

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I have to say, when I’m training, I’m really not worrying about what my cognition will be like in 20 years.  I use meditation to check that box.  Nonetheless, I love all this new found evidence of the brain benefits of exercise.  But can you actually exercise away your risk of dementia?  It would be dumb not to try.

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