Study: Exercise Can Fight Dementia

Researchers reveal five behaviors that together can decrease symptoms of dementia or cognitive decline by 60 percent. Exercise is one—what are the others?

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By Jasmine Evans

Exercise Can Fight Dementia

Photo by Shutterstock

To date, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any medication for the early stages of dementia. But a study from Cardiff University offers some hope for people experiencing dementia or cognitive decline.

After 35 years of work, researchers identified five behaviors people can adopt in order to prevent the disease. The five healthy behaviors are partaking in regular exercise, refraining from smoking, maintaining a low body weight, sticking to a healthy diet, and keeping a low alcohol intake. Researchers found that people who adopted four or five of these healthy behaviors experienced a 60 percent decrease in symptoms of dementia or cognitive decline. Exercise had the strongest impact of all the behaviors. 

Given the research and the lack of a pharmaceutical treatment, practitioners at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center’s Sticht Center on Aging have taken matters into their own hands. They are working with elderly people who experience mild cognitive impairment or dementia to see whether exercising can help reverse the impairment or at least keep it from progressing. 

Dementia is a blanket term for “a significant decline in cognitive function that interferes with daily life,” according to a press release from the Sticht Center. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and accounts for 60–80 percent of all cases. 

According to a 2012 report by the Alzheimer’s Association, Blacks and Latinos are disproportionally more likely to have dementia and show signs of other cognitive impairment. Older African-Americans are two times more likely to have dementia. Moreover, dementia is said to be partially genetic. However, the fact that Blacks are at higher risk for other health issues like high blood pressure and diabetes can account for the higher prevalence of dementia more than genetics. Exercise has been cited as a strong combatant against all those ailments. 

Leaders of the program at Wake Forest Baptist hope that one day adults with a high risk for dementia will be able to get a Medicare-approved prescription for a specific exercise program. These prescriptions could then be “filled” at a local YMCA or recreational center.

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One comment

  • Thank you for this article. I think the issues of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are more far-reaching for our society than people realize. The fact that minorities suffer more seems to be a combination of lots of societal and cultural factors, but it’s important for us to recognize the issue as one that affects us all. Not only is the person suffering dementia affected in terms of health and quality of life, but there are far-reaching effects on care-givers especially and family members in general.

    I love the idea of an exercise prescription. With the elderly especially, suggestions from doctors carry far more weight than the advice of well-meaning children (I speak from experience as a well-meaning adult child!). And since many cannot afford expensive gym memberships, being able to obtain the services through Medicare and to be supervised would be ideal.

    Thank you, Diversity Inc. for shining a light.

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