Moderate Exercise May Lower Risk for Vascular Dementia
> 12/24/2007 1:02:57 PM

According to an Italian study published recently in the journal Neurology, older adults who exercise regularly may be reducing their chances of developing vascular dementia, the second most common form of dementia behind only Alzheimer's disease. Research has continually shown that we can improve our physical and mental health by making lifestyle changes, and this study adds evidence that regular exercise may play a role in preventing mental decline.

The study examined the possibility that exercise could ward off Alzheimer's disease as well vascular dementia and included 749 Italians aged 65 or older. All participants had received a cognitive assessment in 1999 or 2000 and tested normal. The researchers measured the amount of energy subjects' exerted each week through activities such as walking, climbing stairs, bicycling, house and yard work, and gardening. Four years later, follow-up assessments revealed that 86 subjects had developed some form of dementia and 27 had developed vascular dementia specifically. The researchers found no evidence that exercise reduced the subjects' chances of developing Alzheimer's disease. They did find, however, that compared to subjects who exerted the least amount of energy each week, subjects who engaged in the most amount of any physical activity lowered their risk for vascular dementia by 76%.

Vascular dementia develops when blocked blood vessels restrict blood flow to the brain, and strokes occur when blood vessels become completely blocked. Blood vessels can be damaged by high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes, so it's not surprising that the same lifestyle changes that can keep these conditions at bay will also reduce an individual's risk for dementia. The researchers also point out that exercise improves blood flow to the brain and can be done with other people, so that by staying physically active, older adults may stay socially active as well. Additionally, the researchers speculate that exercise may aid in the release of important brain chemicals or promote the growth of new brain cells.

By maintaining a healthy diet and staying physically active, we can improve our health and stave off a number of medical problems, including dementia. More research may be able to further clarify the protective quality of exercise, but these researchers have show that even a small amount of exercise each day can contribute to mental and physical well-being.

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