Dial down Dementia with Exercise!

By: Katie Stumbo B.S. with a focus in Pre-PT, CPT, PES

Exercises effect on Dementia

This is not one of my lighthearted and whimsical articles about the health and fitness world. However, I have had several requests lately to write about this topic. It is an increasingly common diagnosis and I believe not one person reading this has been untouched by dementia in some way. Dementia is defined as a decline in mental state severe enough to interfere with daily life. It can be as simple as memory loss and go all the way to Alzheimer’s. First it is important to understand that dementia is not a specific disease, it is more a grouping of symptoms that are linked to a decline in memory. There are many theories and explanations on why it is becoming more prevalent. Just a few of these theories are longer life spans, exposure to aluminum in our food, vitamin deficiencies and thyroid orders. I will let the experts continue to debate the cause.

Although there is no cure for dementia related diseases there is an amazing amount of research being conducted, we live in an amazing time for medicine and research. “The most active areas of research in the risk reduction and prevention include cardiovascular factors, physical fitness and diet.”("What Is Dementia?")

Regardless of what most of my clients think I am NOT a Doctor and I am NOT a nutritionist (yetJ) so lets stick with discussing what physical fitness can do to mitigate dementia symptoms and delay onset.

Before we get into how exercise helps with dementia, here is a quick biology lesson about the brain. The brain is an organ, the most complex and mysterious organ in our bodies. It is by far the hardest to understand. To understand how exercising can keep the brain healthy it is important to understand how it metabolizes energy. Being the most metabolically active organ in the body the brain together with the heart, liver and kidneys consume 60% of the body’s energy requirements. At rest the brain consumes up to 23% of the bodies total energy requirement ("Brain energy metabolism: Metabolism of glucose in neuronal mitochondria - Axona®: Fuel the Brain"). For as much as the brain consumes it stores very little energy in the form of glycogen and depends on the body’s ability to constantly circulate fresh blood and glucose to survive and function correctly. Maintaining a healthy circulatory system through diet and exercise are essential in maintaining a healthy brain. At the most basic level exercise increases blood flow, regulates blood pressure and helps maintain a healthy weight.

When cardio vascular exercise is performed the heart rate increases, which increases the flow of blood, which in turn increases the amount of oxygen that is delivered to all areas of your body including the brain. The brain like all other muscles and organs needs fresh oxygenated blood to function optimally. The presence of oxygen in the brain allows your brain to enter into neurogenesis. Neurogenesis is the formation of neurons, which increases brain volume. (Charvat). This increased volume is thought to buffer against the effects of dementia. To further the case for exercise as related to your brain health is believed that exercise promotes the production of neurtrophins. Increased neutrophins are shown to increase plasticity that leads to better memory and learning. In addition to all these benefits don’t forget about all the feel good neurotransmitters such as serotonin and norepinephrine that boost mood and the informational processing power of the brain.

The Lancet, a peer-reviewed medical journal, released a research commission on dementia, prevention, intervention and care that demonstrated that 35 percent of risk factors for developing dementia can be attributed to modifiable lifestyle traits. A significant component of which is exercise. (Charvat)

While there are definite genetic and predisposition factors The Lancet research correlated an average of a 15-year delay to onset of dementia symptoms in individuals who regularly exercised. The research continues to discuss types of exercise, diets and lifestyles. In the end it comes down to consistency through a lifespan of maintaining a healthy weight, eliminating processed foods and focusing on a multi faceted approach to fitness. The three facets of exercise that had the greatest correlation to delayed onset dementia were balance, flexibility and aerobic endurance (that doesn’t mean a marathon). Small consistent changes can mean the difference between seeing a grandchild being born and remembering him/her graduating high school. Isn’t that worth some effort?



(n.d.). Brain energy metabolism: Metabolism of glucose in neuronal mitochondria - Axona®: Fuel the Brain. Retrieved from http://www.about-axona.com/us/en/hcp/dcgm/normal-metabolism.html

Charvat, M. (n.d.). Why Exercise Is Good for Your Brain. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-fifth-vital-sign/201901/why-exercise-is-good-your-brain

(n.d.). What Is Dementia? Retrieved from https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/what-is-dementia