The phrase “food for thought” is a common one but have you ever considered “exercise for thought”? Evidence is mounting for the benefits of exercise in preventing dementia (1) as described further at www.yourbrainmatters.org.au. Exercise in general as well as more complex activities requiring quick decision making like freestyle dancing are thought to slow cognitive decline in middle and older age and can contribute overall to feeling of wellness. Studies in large populations suggesting exercise as one way to help prevent dementia continue to emerge, though conclusive evidence is lacking.
Aerobic, balance and flexibility exercises are all good options. Resistance type exercise can improve strength and reduce the risk of falls. Exercise is also mentally stimulating, with evidence building for improved blood flow to the brain, improved preservation of the brain’s memory regions and better mood, which in turn can aid memory. This is in addition to the benefits of fitness for the prevention of diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and subsequent vascular disease. This in turn helps to prevent stroke and problems of the microscopic blood vessels within the brain that might cause cognitive impairment.
In those already with dementia, it may help ward off problems that might be related to inactivity such as muscle wasting and weakness, depression and infections such as pneumonia. Exercise can be a wonderfully positive experience for patients and their families. Focus on what a person has enjoys and their abilities rather than any difficulties. Family and carer support can be vital to maintaining enthusiasm. Even a “walk and talk” or assisting with household chores can be beneficial.
Exercise can be hard to maintain, especially with cooler weather, so why not try a variety of activities until you find something just right for your lifestyle, or find some friends to exercise with as extra motivation. Be realistic in your expectations of fitness, set achievable goals using a carefully tailored program agreed to with your doctor, bring opportunities to exercise into your daily routine, and remember that every bit counts.
Farrow M, Ellis K. Physical activity for brain health and fighting dementia. Alzheimer’s Australia Paper 36. 2013; Alzheimer’s Australia: Canberra.