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Brain function improves when adults with dementia exercise

Friday December 22nd, 2017

When older people with dementia increase their physical exercise, their brain function improves, a new study has found.

And the research, conducted by University College London, UK, concludes that the positive effects are evident even after the onset of dementia, which demonstrates it is never too late to start exercising.

The team, led by Alice Hollamby, from UCL’s epidemiology & public health, tested 30 adults over the age of 65 with dementia and 40 adults without the condition. They were asked to complete a range of cognitive tests, including verbal fluency and memory tasks, as well as questionnaires on physical fitness.

They found that physical activities such as lifting objects, balancing, taking a brisk walk or taking stairs instead of lifts improved their ability to plan, organise and remember.

“Our paper provides empirical support for the cognitive benefits of interventions promoting physical fitness for individuals with dementia,” said Ms Hollamby.

“We understand that living with dementia poses many challenges to individuals and their families and the idea of improving their physical fitness may seem like an unachievable target. However, we encourage increased physical fitness in any way, even what may seem like minor step.

“Even just helping out around the house or in the garden, taking a short walk or swim, lifting things from a seated position could play a big part in slowing the progression of dementia.”

The study, which is published in the latest edition of Frontiers in Public Health, suggests physical activity stimulates blood circulation in frontal-striatal circuits, which in turn help to improve cognitive function.

Co-author Dr Eddy J Davelaar, from the University of Birkbeck, England, said: “We all know that we should embrace a healthy lifestyle to strengthen our physical and mental well-being. However, this is not to say that when one develops dementia, all hope is lost. Our findings suggest that prior levels of physical activity did not influence the association between cognitive performance and physical fitness. This means it is never too late to start.”

Senior author, Dr Dorina Cadar from UCL epidemiology & public health added that its study has helped to identify risk factors that could modify the rate of cognitive deterioration and disease progression.

“It is very interesting to observe that the level of physical fitness could hamper the progress of cognitive deterioration in individuals with different stages of dementia,” she said.

“This gives us hope that ensuring a reasonable level of physical activity and optimal fitness could bring extra years of cognitive spark to those with dementia.”

Increased physical fitness is associated with higher executive functioning in people with dementia Frontiers in Public Health 21 December 2017; doi:10.3389/fpubh.2017.00346

Tags: Brain & Neurology | Elderly Health | Fitness | UK News

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