Regular exercise may help older people reduce their chances of getting dementia, according to a new study.
Researchers found that older, non-disabled people who regularly engaged in physical activity reduced their risk of vascular-related dementia by 40 percent and cognitive impairment from any cause by 60 percent.
The researchers noted that the protective effect of regular physical activity remained regardless of age, education, changes in the brain’s white matter, and a previous history of stroke or diabetes.
“We strongly suggest physical activity of moderate intensity at least 30 minutes three times a week to prevent cognitive impairment,” said Ana Verdelho, M.D., lead author of the study and a neuroscience researcher at the University of Lisbon, Santa Maria Hospital in Portugal.
“This is particularly important for people with vascular risk factors such as hypertension, stroke or diabetes.”
The findings are based on an analysis of a multinational European study that included yearly cognitive assessments for three years. The analysis included 639 people in their 60s and 70s.
According to the researchers, 55 percent were women and almost 64 percent said they were active at least 30 minutes a day three times a week. Activities included gym classes, walking and biking.
Researchers performed magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests at the beginning and end of the study to gauge white matter changes in the brain, an indicator of possible cognitive decline.
“Damage of the cerebral white matter is implicated in cognitive problems, including depression, walking difficulties and urinary complaints,” Verdelho said. “White matter changes are very common in older people and mainly associated with vascular risk factors like hypertension and stroke.”
Throughout the study, researchers asked participants in phone interviews and clinical visits about depression, quality of life and performing everyday activities.
At the end of the study, 90 patients had dementia, including 54 with vascular dementia in which impaired blood flow to the brain causes cognitive decline, while 34 patients met the criteria for Alzheimer’s disease.
Another 147 patients developed cognitive impairment, but not dementia, according to the researchers.
The study was published in the American Heart Association journal Stroke.
Source: American Heart Association