Regular physical activity may help older people reduce their chances of getting dementia, according to findings from the latest study to examine the association.
Older, non-disabled people who regularly engaged in physical activity reduced their risk of vascular-associated dementia by 40% and cognitive impairment of any etiology by 60%, according to researchers. The protective effect of regular physical activity remained regardless of age, education, changes in the brains white matter and even previous history of stroke.
The findings are based on a prospective multinational European study that included yearly comprehensive cognitive assessments for three years. The results are part of increasing evidence that regular physical activity promotes brain health, the researchers said.
We strongly suggest physical activity of moderate intensity at least 30 minutes three times a week to prevent cognitive impairment, Ana Verdelho, MD, the studys lead author and a neuroscience researcher at the University of Lisbons Santa Maria Hospital in Portgual.
The analysis included 639 people in their 60s and 70s, 55% of whom were women and almost 64% of whom said they were active at least 30 minutes a day three times a week. The activity included gym classes, walking and biking. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise every week for optimal health.
Researchers performed magnetic resonance imaging 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.
The study appeared Nov. 1 on the website of Stroke, a journal of the American Heart Association. The study abstract is available at http://stroke.ahajournals.org/content/early/2012/11/01/STROKEAHA.112.661793.abstract.