Exercising 20 Minutes a Day Lowers Your Risk of Dementia — Best Life

Unlike heart health, which many know can often be managed with diet and exercise, it can sometimes feel like we have dementia out of our control as we age. But research is giving the medical community a better understanding of cognitive decline, including specific activities and lifestyle changes that may affect the likelihood of developing the condition. Now, a new study has found that doing one thing in particular for 20 minutes every day can significantly reduce the risk of dementia, even if you start later in life. Read on to see which activity can help your brain health.

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woman swimming to exercise, more than 40 fitness

The latest brain health research comes from a study published on Jan Alzheimer’s and Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association. Researchers used brains from 404 deceased participants between the ages of 70 and 80 who had been donated to science as part of the Rush Memory and Aging Project in Chicago. Researchers also collected data on each participant’s physical activity and exercise levels throughout their later stages of life.

Examination of brain tissue found that the participants who were more active and later moved more had higher levels of a protein that has been shown to enhance communication between brain cells through synapses, CNN reports. The proteins were even seen in more active participants whose brains showed other physical signs of dementia onset, meaning the protective benefits could still be viable in later life stages.

“The more physical activity, the higher the synaptic protein levels in brain tissue. This suggests that every movement counts when it comes to brain health.” Kaitlin Casaletto, PhD, an assistant professor of neurology at the Memory and Aging Center at the University of California San Francisco, told CNN in an email, adding that her team recommends aiming for 150 minutes a week — or 20 minutes a day. – to physical activity.

brain scan pictures with doctor looking at it

The research team’s findings focus on an element of brain health related to the passage of electrical impulses between neurons. “Synapses are the critical communication nodes between nerve cells and are really where the magic happens when it comes to cognition,” Casaletto wrote in the email. “All of our thinking and memory takes place as a result of this synaptic communication.”

When it comes to slowing or stopping the onset of dementia, the body must repair and replace proteins at synapses in the brain and keep them in proper proportions. “There are many proteins present at the synapse that help facilitate various aspects of cell-to-cell communication. Those proteins must be in balance with each other for the synapse to function optimally,” Casaletto wrote. “Several previous studies consistently show…associating higher levels of the same synaptic proteins in brain tissue with better cognitive performance, independent of plaques and tangles.”

According to experts involved in the study, the research team’s finding of a positive correlation between physical activity and protective proteins could be important for managing dementia in the future. “These data reinforce the importance of incorporating regular exercise into our daily lives, no matter how young or old we are,” Heather Snyder, vice president of medical and scientific relations for the Alzheimer’s Association, which helped fund the study in part, said in a statement.

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A senior man stretching with a group of people in a park while exercising

Casaletto concluded that while the study’s findings did not establish a clear cause-and-effect between dementia and exercise, it was nevertheless a breakthrough in our understanding of the relationship between the two. “We have described for the first time in humans that synaptic functioning may be a pathway through which physical activity promotes brain health,” she wrote to CNN. “I think these findings are beginning to support the dynamic nature of the brain in response to our activity, and the older brain’s ability to mount healthy responses to activity, even in the oldest ages.”

If you want to get moving, experts recommend starting simple and working your way up to more sustained exercise over time. “Start walking with just five to 10 minutes a day for the first few days while figuring out the best time and place for your walks,” fitness expert Dana Santas tells CNN. “Once you’ve got the logistics down, start adding a few more minutes to each walk. Ideally, you want to get about 20 to 30 minutes a day.”

“Take steps to make it sustainable so it becomes a part of your lifestyle that you enjoy and be proud of instead of looking at it negatively as a chore,” she adds.

elderly couple who like to exercise

Other research has also recently shed light on how exercise may affect dementia risk over time. In a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology in July 2021, researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center examined the link between Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia and physical activity. The Texas scientists were interested in what could be done to improve the quality of life of more than 6 million people Americans living with some form of dementia.

The one-year study involved 70 men and women aged 55 to 80 with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which progresses to Alzheimer’s disease half the time. Researchers divided the participants into two groups: the first was instructed to walk briskly several times a week, while the second took part in a stretching and toning class with no aerobic component. The first group started with three training sessions per week of 25 to 30 minutes, and after seven months they built up to four or five brisk walking sessions per week lasting 30 to 40 minutes. According to the study, the running group saw increased motor skills and improved memory and cognitive function, in addition to improved cardio fitness. However, the group that was supposed to do stretching and toning activities for a year, didn’t.

“Aerobic” sports is very important for improving both vascular and brain function,” said Rong Zhang, PhD, the study’s principal investigator and a professor of neurology at UT Southwestern, told Healthline. “The brain is a unique organ. It needs a constant flow of blood and oxygen.”

RELATED: Being older than 60 raises your risk of dementia by 55 percent.

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