The best defense against dementia is also the simplest

Go ahead and accuse me of beating a dead horse. But I am going to continue to talk about exercise until I know you’ve gotten the message loud and clear! And until you’re moving every day like your life depends on it…  

Because you know what? It absolutely does.  

In fact, it’s worth noting that a good portion of 2017’s Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) was devoted to talking about lifestyle interventions. More specifically, how simple factors like nutrition, stress reduction, sleep, and yes, exercise, can stall dementia.

It’s also worth noting that there are quite a few experts who consider exercise to be the single most effective lifestyle intervention regarding your brain’s health.

I have to say, it’s refreshing that the mainstream is finally coming around to seriously acknowledging the role that lifestyle plays against diseases (of any kind). But for a disease like Alzheimer’s, with so few options for treatment, I can’t think of anything more exciting than the possibility that key to prevention may boil down to simple exercise.  

And yet that’s just what one recent study — presented at this year’s AAIC — shows. Researchers divided patients into two categories — one reporting low amounts of exercise (fewer than 150 minutes weekly), and one reporting high amounts (more than 150 minutes per week).

Not surprisingly, the low exercise group turned out to be older and displayed more symptoms of depression. But researchers also found that the high exercise group experienced a slower rate of amyloid accumulation. And as you may recall, amyloid is one of the substances that forms the telltale plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

There are still questions here, of course. Like whether or not a reduction in amyloid plaques necessarily means a reduction in or delay of Alzheimer’s symptoms.

But I doubt I need to remind you that this is far from the only evidence linking increased physical activity with a boost in cognitive health. The bottom line is that the effect of exercise rivals — and in some cases, surpasses — that of currently available medications.

And let me tell you, it’s much cheaper — not to mention more accessible and lower risk. Literally anyone can exercise, even people with disabilities.

I can’t say it enough — you DON’T need to sweat buckets to see a benefit. Strength training and aerobics are research-proven to deliver the goods. But studies show that even low-intensity activities like yoga and tai chi have a significant positive impact in the fight against dementia.

In fact, research suggests that six months of regular exercise is more effective than six months of cognitive training when it comes to preserving brain health — which puts a pretty literal spin on the concept of mind-body medicine.

The evidence has become so irrefutable that researchers are preparing to launch a new two-year, 20 million dollar study to examine the role exercise and other lifestyle-based interventions can play in Alzheimer’s prevention.

Recruitment starts next year, so obviously, it will be a while before those results come in. But when they do, you can bet I’ll be the first to report them. I’m also beginning work on an extensive Alzheimer’s protocol, which I plan to launch at the beginning of next year — so be sure to stay tuned here for updates.

In the meantime, the message here is pretty clear. Join a gym, hop on your bike, or take a daily walk (even if it’s just to the end of the block and back). Because something isn’t just better than nothing — it’s the best defense against dementia you’ve got.