People who do regular physical activity have healthier brains, better memory and planning skills, and have less chance of developing dementia, according to a new paper released to coincide with Dementia Awareness Week (16 -22 September).
The paper, ‘Physical Activity for Brain Health and Fighting Dementia’, outlines how physical activity improves brain health and may increase the volume of the hippocampus in the brain, which is essential in helping to coordinate memory.
Dr Maree Farrow, Research Fellow at Alzheimer’s Australia (Vic) co-authored the paper with Dr Kathryn Ellis, Senior Research Fellow at The University of Melbourne.
“Research has found that about half of Alzheimer’s disease cases are potentially attributable to risk factors you can change,” said Dr Maree Farrow. “The benefits of physical activity for the health of your body and your heart are well known. Physical activity also has a significant positive impact on your brain health.”
A study by US researchers found that around 13% (over 4 million) of Alzheimer’s disease cases worldwide are attributable to physical inactivity. The researchers found that if a quarter of inactive people became more active, this could prevent nearly 1 million cases of Alzheimer’s disease worldwide.
An Australian study showed that if 5% of inactive people became active every 5 years, this would reduce Australian dementia prevalence by 11% by 2051. That equates to around 100,000 fewer Australians living with dementia, simply by getting more Australians to do regular physical activity.
The brain grows new cells and connections between them throughout life and the brain requires adequate blood flow to receive the oxygen and nutrients it needs to function well. Physical activity supports these important aspects of brain biology. Whilst it is normal for the brain to shrink a little as we grow older, this age-related shrinkage is reduced in people who engage in regular physical activity.
“Whatever your stage of life, being fit and healthy matters,” said Dr Farrow.
It is estimated that over 320,000 Australians are living with dementia in 2013. Without a significant medical breakthrough, that is expected to increase to around 900,000 by 2050.
Alzheimer’s Australia’s Your Brain Matters program provides evidence-based advice that healthy and active lifestyles are associated with better brain function and lower dementia risk.
Dementia Awareness Week is being held nationally between 16 – 22 September. World Alzheimer’s Day is on Saturday 21 September. The theme is ‘Brain Health – Making the Connections’ and aims to educate the general community about the benefits of brain health and how to go about leading a brain healthy lifestyle.
Alzheimer’s Australia is the charity for people with dementia and their families and carers. As the peak body, it provides advocacy, support services, education and information.
For more information contact the National Dementia Helpline: 1800 100 500 an interpreter service is available.
The National Dementia Helpline is an Australian Government Initiative and you can access it on the web at: www.fightdementia.org.au