Exercise and Dementia Prevention

Exercise and Dementia Prevention

We have learned, through medical research, that the brain (just like any other organ in the body) requires exercise for function. However, did you know that physical exercise may also help reduce your chances of early-onset Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia? The concept is still under study, but research in this area has been positive.

We are familiar with the concept that exercise releases endorphins, and older adults can benefit from the release of those ‘feel-good’ hormones when it comes to depression. It doesn’t matter if you’re 60 or 80 – those endorphins are there and will be released with physical activity.

It doesn’t matter how old you are – the brain is always capable of developing new brain cells. That goes for new neural pathways also, even when the brain has been damaged by disease, including some forms of dementia.

Harvard Medical School conducted a study that showed that physical activity and the increase of oxygen intake by the brain is beneficial for those diagnosed with dementia. The Journal of Gerontology developed and created the study in which older individuals participated in regular and routine physical exercise. Those who engaged in the physical activity experienced less age-related brain tissue shrinkage than those who remained sedentary. The studies engaged MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) images and followed careful analysis of different areas of the brain that control memory, problem-solving and coordination.

Harvard Medical School is not the only medical facility that endorses exercise for those with dementia. No doubt, physical exercise helps keep the brain stimulated and not only improves mood but also offers individuals the best in emotional and mental health benefits as well. A relatively recent meeting of the American Academy of Neurology believes that a new exercise program ‘may improve physical and cognitive outcomes in patients who have dementia’. Preliminary results show that individuals taking part in the study may have improved cognitive function, heightened quality of life, and physical function than has been offered through traditional medication approaches, according the Deborah Barnes, PhD, MPH, University of California San Francisco.

Actually, while physical exercise has long been known to improve a variety of body functions, including concentration, focus and cognitive ability, the relationship between specific exercises and function movements, cognitive function and awareness are under current study. The program is called Preventing Loss of Independence through Exercise or PLIÉ and combines, occupational, physical and mindfulness and dance therapies, in addition to various traditional forms of exercise including tai chi and yoga.

So far the program has increased willingness in those engaged in the study to be more socially interactive, to move, and to increase memory and thought processes. Dr. Barnes states that ‘being in the moment physically helped patients become more aware cognitively.”


Stay active even with dementia. This man takes his wife on a walk.

This man takes his wife on a walk.

The Alzheimer’s Society has always encouraged its members and followers to engage in physical activity for its positive impact on health and well-being. We’re all aware of the benefits of exercise and physical activity on health and wellness, but when it comes to dementia, it has been shown to improve cognition. In some cases, exercise has been shown to slow down the pace of mental decline.

Until Next Time,
Stay Happy & Healthy
~Dr. Siobhan