We’ve heard all our lives how exercise is good for us. It promotes good health, keeps us from becoming overweight, and boosts our mood. A recent study published in September’s Mayo Clinic Proceedings gives us one more reason to break out the sweatbands and sneakers: exercise may reduce the risk of developing dementia or age-related mental decline.
The study, entitled Physical Exercise as a Preventive or Disease-Modifying Treatment of Dementia and Brain Aging, was supervised by Dr. J. Eric Ahlskog, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic. Together with his research team, Dr. Ahlskog analyzed more than 1,600 scientific research papers that focused on the correlation between exercise and cognition. In a statement released with his findings, Dr. Ahlskog reported “you can make a very compelling argument for exercise as a disease-modifying strategy to prevent dementia and mild cognitive impairment, and for favorably modifying these processes once they have developed.”
In one study, made up of 1,324 dementia-free volunteers, the results concluded that those who engaged in moderate exercise were 39 percent less likely to have cognitive impairment. With exercise there is increased blood flow to the brain, production of nerve-protecting compounds, decreased risk of heart and blood vessel diseases, improved development and survival of neurons – all significant ways our body’s fight against cognitive impairment.
According to a second study which included adults with an average age of 70, results were similarly encouraging. These seniors, who had mild cognitive impairment, were randomly assigned to do high-intensity aerobics, or join a control group that simply did stretching exercises. After six months, the seniors in the aerobics group had improved cognitive function compared to those in the control group.
Another study corroborates these findings. Researchers at the University of California at San Francisco measured the brain function of nearly 6,000 women during an eight-year period. The results were correlated with the women’s normal activity level, including routine walking and stair-climbing.
“In the higher-energy groups, we saw much less cognitive decline,” reported neurologist Kristine Yaffe, MD. Dr. Yaffe, Chief of Geriatric Psychiatry at the San Francisco Veterans Administration Medical Center, also stated, “Of the women who walked the least (a half-mile per week), 24 percent had significant declines in their test scores, compared to only 17 percent of the most active women (17 miles per week). “We also found that for every extra mile walked per week there was a 13 percent less chance of cognitive decline.”
As these studies report, there are real scientific reasons why walking “clears our head.” And since walking is free and something almost anyone can do, there should be no reason why more of us aren’t more active. Our physical and mental health depends on it.