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Can exercise prevent dementia?

Posted February 12, 2014 in Advice Column, Clive, West Des Moines

It’s well known that exercise reduces the risk of some of the most debilitating illnesses, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. Now you can add dementia to the list.

Worldwide, there are more than 36 million people with dementia today and 115 million predicted by 2050. The total estimated worldwide cost of dementia was $604 billion in 2010. If dementia were a country, it would be the world’s 18th largest economy.

And while world health leaders are scrambling to combat these debilitating symptoms of cognitive loss, there is compelling evidence that suggests individuals can do plenty to combat the potential symptoms themselves.

The evidence comes at the end of a nearly 35-year-long study conducted by the Cardiff University in the United Kingdom, which observed 2,235 men between the ages of 25 and 49 beginning in 1979. The study, which was funded by the Medical Research Council, the Alzheimer’s Society and the British Heart Foundation, concluded there are five areas of personal health that an individual should practice as a means of reducing their chances of dementia: regular exercise, not smoking, low body weight, healthy diet and low alcohol intake.

The Cardiff University study concluded regular exercise was the most important factor in reducing the likelihood of dementia. However, those who followed four out of the five saw a 60 percent decline in cognitive deterioration. There was also a 70 percent decline in strokes and heart disease for this same group, compared against those in the group who followed none of these factors.

The findings come as the leading health officials and experts from the world’s wealthiest countries gather in London for a G8 summit on dementia, a growing crisis that some are calling “the 21st century plague.”

Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. One in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia. In the coming decades, the number of Alzheimer’s cases worldwide is expected to more than triple, from 44 million today to 135 million by 2050, according to the advocacy group Alzheimer’s Disease International.

How does exercise make a difference? By stimulating neurogenesis, the creation of new nerve cells in the brain. It’s the birth and development of these cells that allows the brain to renew itself.  And exercise fuels the process.

We tend to think of exercise as a way of keeping the body healthy. But thanks to cerebral neurogenesis, it does the same thing for our memories and cognitive functions. By growing your brain, you keep your mind in top form.

So if you exercise regularly, there will be more brain cells in your future — and you’ll stand a better chance of avoiding the modern plague.

Information provided by Tina L. Howell, Owner/Certified FitCoach at Koko

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