Exercise and Dementia

It is estimated that the number of people with dementia is likely to triple by 2050. Dementia is very rare below 60 yeas, this goes up 1% of the population between 60 and 70 years, 5% for the 70 to 80 years. After 80 years the figures increase dramatically.

By far the most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s Disease (in the UK) – this accounts for approximately 65% of cases, followed by vascular dementia which accounts for around 30%.

So if we are all living longer do we just have to accept that cognitive impairment is a fact of life we have to live with?

There is an increasing amount of evidence that although our genes are very important in our susceptibility to dementia, there is much we can do to prevent of slow the progress of cognitive decline.

  1. Keep our blood pressure at a healthy level
  2. Avoid obesity and diabetes (both of these are inflammatory conditions)
  3. Get enough sleep – 7 hours of quality sleep is seen as important. Good sleep allows for glymphatic drainage of the brain, in which potentially inflammatory debris is “washed away” (much like lymphatic drainage keeps the body healthy).
  4. Build “cognitive reserve/padding” by taking up languages or music
  5. Maintain good gum health – keep flossing. The bacteria that cause gingivitis are often found in the brains of people with dementia.

Exercise appears to stimulate the production of a hormone called Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF or “brain fertiliser”). This helps new nerve cells to grow, stimulates connectivity between cells and boosts the number of mitochondria in the brain (the energy producers of the body).

Also resistance exercise in particular increases the amount of another hormone called Irisin as this is largely produced by skeletal muscle. Animal studies indicate a strong association between low levels of Irisin and cognitive impairment. It is thought low levels of Irisin have negative effects on learning and memory.

So when you are sweating in the gym or Yoga studio, it is not just the body that is benefitting – it is the mind as well.