There are more than 485,000 people living with dementia in Australia, with more than 1.6 million Australians involved in their care.
We all know that physical exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, and the benefits it offers us are broad-reaching. It not only contributes to general fitness and lowers the risk of a range of illnesses and other physical impairments – but it contributes to our sense of wellbeing and reduces the risk of mental health issues as well.
However, did you know that evidence suggests that less than 20% of people aged over 65 engage in an adequate level of physical activity? And that figure is even lower for people in this age bracket who have dementia.
Research results - how to reduce the risk of developing dementia
Researchers are still studying the role of exercise in reducing the risk of developing dementia – and also for the benefits it may offer to people who already have dementia. There have been numerous studies undertaken to examine the impact of exercise on cognitive function and dementia.
Of all the lifestyle changes that have been studied, participating in regular physical activity appears to be one of the best things you can do to reduce your risk of getting dementia. One particular study in the UK looked at the behaviours of 2000 men over the course of 35 years. They assessed 5 lifestyle behaviours over this period – regular exercise, not smoking, moderate alcohol intake, healthy body weight and healthy diet. Of these five lifestyle behaviours, exercise had the greatest impact in terms of reducing dementia risk. However – this study also found that people who followed four or five of these lifestyle attributes were up to 60% less likely to develop dementia.
The Alzheimer’s Society of the UK found that combining the results of 11 studies found that regular exercise can significantly reduce the risk of developing dementia by about 30 per cent. For Alzheimer's disease specifically, the risk was reduced by 45 per cent.
So, what is aerobic exercise?
It is essentially an exercise performed at a moderate level of intensity and sustained for a long period of time. Examples include brisk walking, dancing, jogging, cycling and swimming.
Physical exercise is an essential ingredient in maintaining adequate blood flow to the brain and may stimulate brain cell growth and survival. While there isn’t yet any definitive evidence from trials, several studies have found that physical activity throughout a person’s life is associated with a lower risk of cognitive decline and dementia.
To be of benefit, regular aerobic exercise of at least 30 minutes should be undertaken on most days of the week.
What benefits can physical exercise offer to people with dementia?
- It can help prevent muscle weakness, mobility problems and other health issues associated with a sedentary lifestyle.
- It can help promote a good day-night routine, improve mood and increase social participation.
- It plays an important role in reducing stress, anxiety and depression.
To be effective, it is best that an exercise program is incorporated into a person’s life in the early stages of dementia – this is then much more likely to be maintained as the condition progresses, extending the benefits to health and wellbeing as long as possible.
The Alzheimers Society of the UK reviewed 27 studies looking at the effect of physical activity on brain function in people over the age of 60. In 26 of the studies, there was a clear link between physical activity levels and cognitive performance, suggesting that exercise might be an effective way to reduce cognitive decline in later life.
Although there is still more research to be done to definitively link a regular exercise regime with dementia prevention, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that we should all get our bodies moving as much as we can, as early as we can, to give ourselves the best possible chance of living a long, healthy and dementia-free life!
Visit Dementia Australia to find out everything you need to know about dementia.
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If you have any questions from the team at Accept Care, please contact us or call on 08 8251 5186 to speak to one of our friendly care coordinators.