This Dementia Action Week, we’ve collated some statistics on how physical activity can help to both reduce the risk of developing dementia and support those living with it.

Firstly, what is dementia?

Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of progressive neurological disorders, that is, conditions affecting the brain. There are over 200 subtypes of dementia, but the five most common are: Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, frontotemporal dementia and mixed dementia. Dementia damages nerve cells in the brain so messages can’t be sent from and to the brain effectively, which prevents the body from functioning normally.

Benefits of physical activity for preventing dementia

  • It is estimated that tackling physical inactivity could prevent 12.7% of Alzheimer’s disease cases globally (World Health Organisation, 2012).
  • Evidence suggests that regular exercise can significantly reduce the risk of developing dementia by about 30 per cent. For Alzheimer's disease specifically, the risk was reduced by 45 per cent. Suggesting of all the lifestyles changes that have been studied, regular physical activity appears to be one of the best things you can do to reduce your risk of getting dementia.
  • Although exercise was seen to be the most beneficial form of physical activity, any domestic physical activity such as washing dishes or cooking was beneficial and that physical activity at any age can help reduce the risk (Buchman et al. 2012).
  • Physical activity can potentially be effective in helping to reduce the risk of dementia, even where there is a genetic predisposition (Rovio et al., 2005).
  • Physical activity increased physical fitness, physical and cognitive function and positive behaviour in those with cognitive impairments and dementia (Heyn, Abreu and Ottenbacher, 2004).
  • Even a small shift from sedentary to active can be beneficial (Rockwood and Middleton, 2007, Buchman et al. 2012 and Paillard-Borg et al. 2009).
  • Training programmes that combine aerobic activity with strength and flexibility training were the most effective (Kramer, Erickson and Colcombe, 2006),
  • Greater mental activity or the learning of a new skill or a choreographed routine are found to be further beneficial (Atherton et al., 2002 and Kimura and Hozumi, 2012).

Benefits of physical activity for those living with dementia

  • Improves the health of the heart and blood vessels, which can reduce the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease
  • Improves physical fitness - maintaining strong muscles and flexible joints can help people maintain independence for longer
  • Improves the ability to dress, clean, cook and perform other daily activities (as these may be performed more effectively if someone is fitter or more supple)
  • Helps to keep bones strong and reduces the risk of osteoporosis (a disease that affects the bones, making them weak and more likely to break)
  • Improves cognition - recent studies have shown that exercise may improve memory and slow down mental decline
  • Provides opportunities for social interaction and reduces the feeling of isolation
  • Reduces the risk of falls by improving strength and balance

Find out more about the links between physical activity and dementia with support from Alzheimer’s UK here.

Published May 2021