Physical activity helps older brains

Physical activity in midlife seems to protect from dementia in old age, according to a study carried out at the University of Eastern Finland. Those who engaged in physical activity at least twice a week had a lower risk of dementia than those who were less active. The protective effects were particularly strong among overweight individuals. In addition, the results showed that becoming more physically active after midlife may also contribute to lowering dementia risk.

Several modifiable risk factors for dementia have been suggested, but further refinement of this information is essential for effective preventive interventions targeted at high-risk groups. Leisure-time physical activity (LTPA) is a particularly important due to its broader effects on health in general and cardiovascular health in particular. Previous research has yielded inconsistent evidence on the association between LTPA and dementia, possibly because of short follow-up time, intensity of physical activity or population characteristics such as sex, body mass index, age or genetic risk factors of dementia.

Recent findings from the Cardiovascular Risk Factors, Aging and Incidence of Dementia (CAIDE) Study demonstrated that those who engaged in leisure-time physical activity (LTPA) at least twice per week had lower risk of dementia in comparison to less active individuals. Although these protective effects were observed in the entire study population, regardless of their sex or genetic risk factors, they were particularly strong among overweight and obese individuals.

Becoming physically active after midlife may still lower the risk of dementia

Further staying physically active, or becoming more active, after midlife may also contribute to lowering dementia risk, especially in people who are overweight or obese at midlife. The findings were not explained by socioeconomic background, age, sex, genetic risk factors, obesity, weight loss, general health status or work-related physical activity.

These results suggest that the window of opportunity for physical activity interventions to prevent dementia may extend from midlife to older ages. Results from currently ongoing trials, such as the Finnish multi-center trial FINGER may give more detailed information about the type, intensity, and duration of physical activity interventions that can be used for preventing late-life cognitive decline.

CAIDE participants were derived from four separate, independent, population-based random samples examined in the North Karelia Project and FINMONICA study in 1972, 1977, 1982, or 1987. The average age at the beginning of the study was 50 years. This study included 1432 participants from Kuopio and Joensuu region, who attended cognitive tests in 1998 and 2005-2008. To account for survivor or selection bias, the analyses were also conducted among those 3242 North Karelia Project/FINMONICA-participants who were from Kuopio and Joensuu but did not attend the cognitive assessments using dementia diagnoses from registers.

The material in this press release comes from the originating research organization. Content may be edited for style and length. Want more? Sign up for our daily email.

7 thoughts on “Physical activity helps older brains”

  1. This is a great article that inspires older people to be active in order to add a few extra years to their fairy tales.

    This article specifically goes about people 50 years and older, and how they can change their lifestyle in terms of physical and mental health. I agree with Natasha that prevention is better than cure and I believe that it is never too late to start exercising. Although I, and many other researchers, believe that lifestyle habits are cultivated at a young age. We must start living active from a young age to make exercise part of our daily life. If we are used to an active lifestyle, by the time we are old our bodies will be strong and fit to keep us healthy for longer. If you start exercising at an old age your body may be frail and weak already so that any serious exercise could potentially lead to injuries. Therefore I think the Author can write another article for the younger generation to inspire them to manifest a healthy active lifestyle while they are still young and full of energy.

  2. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke specified that people with Dementia : “May not be able to think well enough to do normal activities, such as getting dressed or eating, may loose the ability to solve problems or control their emotions. Their personalities may change and they may become agitated or see things that are not there.”

    My grandfather, 88, displays all of the above symptoms. Initially the changes were so subtle, no one noticed it. However, over the past three years, it has progressed quite substantially and has made life for himself as well as close family very difficult.

    He has always been very active, having built four houses in his lifetime. Until recently he has done all the maintenance work around the house himself, kept track of his own finances and has actively continued his hobby of crossword puzzles. He has never been overweight and has maintained a healthy lifestyle. Although this article indicates that being physically active after midlife may decrease the risk of dementia, this was not the case for my grandfather.

    I agree with both Natasha and Bhavika’s comments that being mentally and physically active can lead to a better quality of life. I do also, however, believe Christiaan and Leslie’s comments are very relevant.

    Personally, based on my grandfather’s case, I think there are more factors that contribute to the causes of Dementia. The brain is so complex. This article is just one more piece in the puzzle and hopefully one day when the puzzle is complete there will be a cure for this absolutely devastating disease. It is truly sad to see a brilliant, active person became a shadow of his former self.

  3. I agree that exercise is beneficial in almost every way for elderly people. Overall exercise is something that benefits every person at any age.

    Exercise has the ability not only to keep you fit and healthy, but to lift your spirits and keep you happy. Research shows no matter what your age, you stand to gain significant improvements in strength, range of motion, balance, bone density and mental clarity through exercise. These are essential to people of older age.

    Exercise also reduces your risk for diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, dementia and depression. Exercise keeps your body and mind on the go.

    And I agree that everybody is different and therefor exercise in different ways.
    For example, Tao Porchon-Lynch, who is winning ballroom dance competitions and teaches at least 12 yoga classes a week at age 93.
    Lew Hollander, who became the second 80-year-old to complete the Ford Ironman World Championship, which consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile marathon

    Some people cant achieve what others do, because of bodily limitations (arthritis,osteoporosis, ect.) but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t do the things they actually can do.

    So in conclusion, you are never too old to start exercising, even if it is just walking up and down your three steps a few times a day, to keep you going. You will only find benefits to keeping on the go.

  4. In this article they focus on the mental health of older brains that can be increased by being physically active. But the article didn’t distinguish what was meant to be physical active, so I decided to answer the bloggers questions.

    Now what is meant by the elderly to be physically active? According to the medical author Richerd Weil physical activity include a minimum of 30 minutes aerobic exercise three times a week, 8-10 min resistance exercise two times a week, 10 minutes flexibility exercise as well as 10 minutes balance exercise two times a week. Studies also showed that, not only do older women that exercise increase their brain power, but it reduces the risk of cognitive decline by 20%. I agree with the statement made in this article and I believe that prevention is better than cure. So for staying mentally healthier for longer it will be a good idea to make exercise part of your daily routine.

  5. This article is not only inspiring to the elderly but also to the younger generation. It just shows us that if we keep ourselves busy and occupied we can live a better quality of life.

    By engaging ourselves in activities we keep our brain busy and occupied. An idle brain tends to wonder too much and that eventually leads us to depression or any other mental health problems.

    I would like to add that physical activity depends on the individual. We are all not the same and everyone can’t run a 50km marathon but by engaging in an activity that makes you happy also contributes to a healthier you that will eventually allow you to live longer.

    Bhavika Mistry

  6. I agree, it is difficult to know what “physical activity” entails. Does it mean washing the dishes or mowing the lawn. Which are both physical but definitely in different classes.

    But I think it depends on the individual. For some people walking around the house can be exercise, for other people it can be going to the gym and doing a water aerobics class.

    I have a very good example in my family, my maternal grandmother is 78 and she drives a new BMW and owns and runs a guest house on her own and looks 60. On the other hand, my paternal grandfather is 78 and he is retired and to some extend very limited physically because he doesn’t do much. It just shows that if you keep busy you will stay “young” for longer.

  7. The article states physical activity twice a week several times but never mentions what sort of activities and for what duration. It would be an informative article if it gave more detail.

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