Exercise and Dementia

There has been a great deal of coverage in the news of the story from Alzheimer's Association that up to a third of people born in 2015 will be expected to suffer from dementia - about 27% of boys and 37% of girls. Dementia is a condition in which age plays a large part; as people live longer so the likelihood of suffering from it rises.

 Many of the reports naturally focused on the process of trying to find drugs or other treatments that will deal with the condition, and made comparison between the relatively small amounts spent on dementia research and the much larger amount spent on cancer research. But while it is crucially important to find treatments for dementia when it happens, it is also important to recognise that just as the body's health can be improved by lifestyle choices, so can the brain's health be maintained by lifestyle choices.

We have in the past reported on research showing this to be the case - Exercise and the Brain and Fitness and Dementia - and both these articles report on studies that show a relationship between exercise and mental as well as physical wellness. Now a new study from Cardiff University adds yet more weight to the idea that the beneficial effects of healthy lifestyle choices such as doing exercise, having a good diet and healthy bodyweight are not only effective in reducing disease but also in reducing rates of dementia.

Published on PLOS ONE , the research observed the reduction of the incidence of "diabetes, heart disease, cancer and all-cause mortality" which were due to the research subjects adopting one or more of five healthy behaviours - "non-smoking, an acceptable BMI, a high fruit and vegetable intake, regular physical activity, and low/moderate alcohol intake". The subjects - 2,235 men aged 45–59 years living in Caerphilly, Wales - were followed over a 35 year period and at the end of that time it was found that among people who adopted four out of the five behaviours there were "70 per cent fewer instances of diabetes, heart disease and stroke, compared with people who followed none." Not only that, the four- and five-out-of-fiver's "experienced a 60 per cent decline in (rates of) dementia and cognitive decline". According to the researchers exercise was the "strongest mitigating factor".

Their conclusions were unequivocal. "A healthy lifestyle is associated with increased disease-free survival and reduced cognitive impairment". As mentioned before, they also concluded that the single most important of the healthy behaviours was exercise and physical activity.

The particular relevance to Silver Grey Sports Club, of course, is that since dementia is almost entirely a disease that affects people as they get older, by virtue of their continued participation in sports and exercise Silver Grey athletes are giving themselves the best chance of avoiding it. And if not avoiding, then delaying it, both of which are good news for them and their families as well as being good news for everybody else. Because every person who doesn't fall victim to dementia, or who delays its onset, means less strain on health services and more resources for those who are unlucky enough to need treatment for this terribly harrowing condition.