Research review: Physical activity protects brain health

Aging is a part of life, and many of us will know someone who experiences, or experience for ourself, age-related cognitive decline or even dementia. But research shows that regular physical activity can actually protect the structure and function of the brain and slow down cognitive decline.

According to experts, regular exercise can reduce the risk of dementia by over 30%. For example, a 2010 study found that regular daily walking strengthens memory circuits in the brain. The researches found that people with either Alzheimer’s or mild cognitive decline who walked at least 5 miles per week maintained more brain volume and had less memory loss over 10 years than people who did not get an equivalent amount of physical activity. The researchers recommend walking at least 6 miles per week to help prevent Alzheimer’s.

A more recent July 2016 study, which followed participants for over a decade, also concluded that low amounts of physical activity were associated with a higher risk of dementia while higher amounts of physical activity were associated with a lower risk as well as higher brain volume.

I also recently read about a study published in Age and Aging in May 2017 that found that participants who walked for at least 1 hour per day during middle age had a 28% lower risk for developing dementia later in life. I was not, however, able to locate the study to verify. If you have a link to the study or abstract, please feel free to share it!!

What can we do to protect brain health?

The JAMA Network advises that even just 15 minutes of brisk walking each day has protective benefits to the structure and function of the brain. The JAMA Network also identifies several other protective factors including eating healthfully, getting enough sleep, not smoking, treating medical concerns like heart disease and high blood pressure,  and staying socially engaged and mentally active.

Know of any other interesting research findings? Let us know in the comments!

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