Doing more to prevent dementia
Eating healthily, being physically active and socialising are all great ways of helping to stave off the onset of dementia.
With already over 850,000 of us in the UK diagnosed with symptoms of dementia and the figure expected to reach 2 million by 2051 the impact on sufferers and their families is immense. There are, however, things we can do for ourselves to keep our brains healthier for longer.
Research tells us that exercise is one of a number of lifestyle factors which enhances cognitive function and so may delay Alzheimer’s disease – the most common form of dementia.
Becoming more active does help
Studies have found that being physically active helps to prevent our brains from shrinking as we age and therefore delay the onset of symptoms of dementia. But exercise doesn’t only prevent brain shrinkage it is now believed that aerobic exercise, in particular, may actually increase brain volume. The result of this may be improved memory function, especially in those with existing dementia symptoms.
In fact, it is during our middle years when exercise has the optimum impact on our future cognitive function.
How does exercise affect our brains?
There are a number of ways that exercise can help:
As we exercise there is an increase in blood flow throughout our body but especially to the brain. Poor blood flow can hasten the symptoms of dementia by impairing memory but by exercising, our brain receives more oxygen and essential nutrients which help to protect how the brain functions.
The role of hormones and proteins
Those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease have been found to have significantly reduced amounts of specific proteins and hormones in the brain. These play an important role in signalling pathways and so the lack of these results in reduced cognitive function. During exercise hormones and proteins are released which enhance our brain power and help to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s.
Helping our hearts
Heart attacks and strokes can lead to impaired cognitive function and heart disease can increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. Studies have shown that exercising for a minimum of 150 minutes a week is one of the best ways to keep a healthy heart.
Maintaining a healthy weight
If glucose levels are too high brain cells can be damaged and according to research there is an increased risk of developing dementia, in particular in those with type 2 diabetes. Taking regular exercise results in lower glucose levels in the blood and enables the body to use these sugars as energy instead.
Creating new neural pathways
If specific pathways in the brain are blocked or damaged, exercise can help the brain to create new neural pathways. The transmission of electrical impulses is also increased by exercise which in turn improves its function.
Immediate and long-term benefits
After only 10 minutes of exercise the benefit to the way our brain functions is noticeable but exercising for a period of 6 months or more can even reverse the effects of dementia.
So aerobic exercise undertaken on a regular basis can boost our brains and reduce our chances of getting dementia but are there benefits with other types of exercise too?
How to boost brain function during exercise:
- Do some resistance training using free weights while standing unsupported – that way you’re less likely to lose your body’s natural stability. Resistance exercises are important tools against cognitive decline
- Combine aerobic and resistance exercises for optimal health benefits
- Try shorter bursts of high intensity exercise as along with promoting fat loss it should reduce strains that may occur from long-duration exercise
- Exercise should be fun – if you choose something you enjoy then you are more likely to stick at it. Exercise doesn’t have to mean running mini marathons – brisk walking, gardening, swimming, cycling all count!
- Try balancing exercises – those with dementia commonly find they lose their balance so performing balancing exercises or closing your eyes during a yoga or pilates class will challenge your ears and muscles to work more strongly
Other ways to keep our brains in tip top condition
Along with taking regular physical activity there are other lifestyles factors to consider if we want to boost our brain power:
A healthy, well-balanced diet
A study from January 2018 in the journal Neurology found that eating a healthy diet full of whole grains, fruits and green leafy vegetables showed a slowing of age-related cognitive decline.
Read more on how to eat well
Research has found that high social engagement seems to prevent or delay dementia so maintaining those social links is key to keeping the brain healthy.
Keep your brain ticking!
It has not yet been proven that cognitive training helps ward off the onset of dementia but learning a new skill or hobby may help preserve brain function
We have a section with articles dedicated to dementia so if you would like to read more then follow the Dementia link
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