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Older Adults Can Cut Down Risk of Dementia By Exercising Regularly

Update Date: Nov 02, 2012 11:54 AM EDT

Exercising regularly has various health benefits for people of all age groups. Not only does it keep one physically fit, it also has a considerably positive impact on people's psychological well-being.

A new study suggests that seniors who indulge in regular physical activity may benefit from it by reducing their chances of contracting dementia.

The study has found that older, non-disabled people who exercised regularly cut down their risk of vascular-related dementia by 40 percent and cognitive impairment of any etiology by 60 percent.

The benefits of exercise in older adults apparently remained consistent irrespective of their age, education, changes in the brain's white matter and even previous history of stroke or diabetes, the researchers said.

The study findings are based on a prospective multinational European study that included yearly comprehensive cognitive assessments for three years.

"We strongly suggest physical activity of moderate intensity at least 30 minutes three times a week to prevent cognitive impairment," said Ana Verdelho, M.D., lead author of the study and a neuroscience researcher at the University of Lisbon, Santa Maria Hospital in Portugal.

"This is particularly important for people with vascular risk factors such as hypertension, stroke or diabetes."

The study included an analysis of 639 people in their 60s and 70s. Of the people analyzed for the study,  more than half (55 percent) were women, and apparently, almost 64 percent of them reported being active at least 30 minutes a day, three times a week.

The activities included working out at the gym, walking and biking. According to The American Heart Association recommendations, one should exercise moderately for at least 150 minutes per week or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise.

Using MRI scans, researchers at the beginning and the end of the study, gauged the white matter changes in the brains of participants. The changes are the indicators of possible cognitive decline.

"Damage of the cerebral white matter is implicated in cognitive problems including depression, walking difficulties and urinary complaints," Verdelho said. "White matter changes are very common in older people and mainly associated with vascular risk factors like hypertension and stroke."

When the study finished, it was found that 90 patients had dementia. While 54 had vascular dementia (one which impairs blood flow to the brain resulting in cognitive decline), 34 reportedly had Alzheimer's disease. Another 147 patients apparently developed cognitive impairment, but not dementia.

The study was published in the American Heart Association journal Stroke.

"This relatively small study provides more support for the view that what is good for your heart is good for your head. We know that damage to the cardiovascular system is linked to dementia and these findings suggest that by keeping this system healthy, we can reduce our risk of the condition," Dr. Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer's Research UK, was quoted as saying by Mail Online.

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