Dementia may not be an inevitable part of aging—in fact, well into late adulthood, the brain has the remarkable ability to continue to grow rather than atrophy.
Regular physical activity has been shown to reduce the risk of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, by as much as 50%.
How does exercise protect against dementia? The brain’s hippocampus and prefrontal cortex play dominant roles in memory formation and complex thinking, and their deterioration can be a predictor for Alzheimer’s disease. Amazingly, researchers are finding that these are the very areas responsive to physical exercise. In fact, higher fitness levels correlate with an increase in size in both the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex. This means that exercise can help our brains continue to grow, and thus head off risk of cognitive decline.
It’s never too late to start,the earlier you begin, the greater the protection for your brain—but exercise leads to improved brain function at any age.
And you don’t need to work out an hour a day to experience benefits, either. Roughly 30 to 40 minutes of brisk walking several times a week will improve brain function and cognitive performance. Increasing the intensity of your workout could offer additional protection. Research suggests that moderate intensity exercise is sufficient for improving your brain, but that more vigorous activity might have additional benefits.