Physical inactivity found to raise the risk of dementia

A five year Canadian study of over 1600 people age 65 and older found that a sedentary lifestyle raised the risk of dementia in people who did not have the genetic mutation associated with dementia to the level of risk of people who had the mutation. The results were recently published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

For a summary of the article:

For the journal article abstract:

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The take away from this article is that a sedentary lifestyle negates the benefit of not having a genetic risk for dementia. And, according to the study authors, since most people don’t have the genetic mutation, physical activity may be a good way to prevent dementia from developing.

Although the study did not attempt to explain why or how physical activity might decrease the risk of dementia, the National Institutes of Aging offers this explanation:

In animal studies, exercise increased the number of small blood vessels in the brain which in turn increased the amount of blood supplied to the brain. Exercise also increased the number of connections between nerve cells and increased the amount of a chemical needed for nerves to grow in the area of the brain important for memory.

Research on people shows that exercise can stimulate the brain to maintain old nerve network connections and make new ones that are needed for healthy thinking.

Unfortunately, there is nothing presently known that can prevent dementia. However, there are some things we can all do to lessen the risk of it developing. The National Institute on Aging offers the following advice:

1.     Get physical      

  • Aim for 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week or 30 minutes 5 days a week.  Brisk walking is a great way to get moving.
  • Take an exercise class or do exercises at home
  • Go dancing
  • Do yard work or garden
  • Swim
  • Play with your grandchildren
  • Walk your dog

2. Control high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type II diabetes.
            These are all known to increase the risk of dementia and all are controllable.

3. Eat a healthy diet

  • Limit the amount of sugar, sodium and saturated fat in your diet. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, beans, seeds, nuts, fish and poultry rather than red meat. (See

4. Be socially active

  • Play cards or other games with friends
  • Join a senior center
  • Go to the theater, a movie or sporting event
  • Travel with a group
  • Visit friends and family
  • Try different restaurants
  • Join or start a hobby group – knitting, hiking, painting woodworking
  • Listen to the radio
  • Reading newspapers
  • Playing puzzle games
  • Form or join a book club
  • Learn something new
         Take a cooking, art, or computer class
         Learn a new language or how to play a new instrument
         Try yoga, tai chi, or another new physical activity

6. Become more active in your community

·Serve meals or organize clothing donations at a place for homeless people

·Help an organization send care packages to soldiers stationed overseas

  • Care for dogs and cats at an animal shelter
  • Volunteer to run errands for people with disabilities
  • Join a committee or volunteer for an activity at your place of worship
  • Volunteer at a school, library, or hospital
  • Help with gardening at a community garden or park
  • Organize a park clean-up through your local recreation center or community association
  • Sing in a community choral group, or play in a local band or orchestra
  • Take part in a local theater troupe
  • Get a part-time job

For more information:

National Institute on Aging – Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s Association

NHS – Can dementia be prevented


Joanna Hayden, PhD, CHES is the principal of Associates for Health Education and Behavior, LLC, in Sparta, a practice focused on improving health through education. Her office offers individual and group health education, and individual health behavior change guidance.  For more information please see  To contact Dr. Hayden, email her

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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