Examination of the brain tissue of 167 elderly people found that those who regularly exercised had fewer markers associated with neural degradation. The impact of exercise varied depending on the type of dementia that posed the greater risk on the individual. In vascular dementia, regular exercise improved cardiovascular health and ensured that blood flow to the brain remained unobstructed. Fewer of the microglial cells that cause brain damage when inflamed were found to be activated.
The study looked at recently deceased elderly people who had previously taken part in fitness studies alongside cognition tests that screened for signs of cognitive decay.
These studies, performed by the same research team at the university of California gave insights into the potential protective effects of exercise.
These studies identified that the microglial cells in the brains of physically active elderly people were less active.
Previous research had suggested that exercise before old age reduced your risk, but this study supports the idea that exercise during old age can also have a protective effect.
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NHS guidelines on exercise and fitness recommend that adults under the age of 64 get 75 minutes of intense exercise or 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week.
Intense exercise includes running and aerobics, while moderate exercise includes brisk walking, dance and mowing the lawn.
The rule of thumb for telling the two apart is that moderate exercises will allow you to talk but not sing.
Vigorous exercise will make you breath hard, leaving you unable to say more than a few words without pausing for breath.
Elderly people, the NHS advises, should also aim for the same 75 minutes of intense exercise or 150 minutes of moderate activity, but has further recommendations to improve physical health.
You are recommended to spread your exercise out over the entire week, and incorporate them into your routine.
Strength and balance building exercises are also more important, such as yoga or tai chi.
You might prefer to use equipment such as weights or resistance bands, or replace exercise with high intensity gardening work such as digging.
Vascular dementia is the most common type of dementia and is the result of reduced blood flow to the brain starving cells of oxygen and nutrients.
The largest risk factors for vascular dementia are lifestyle factors.
Outside of exercise you can reduce your risk by controlling your blood pressure and diet while avoiding risky behaviours such as alcohol and smoking.
Non-lifestyle factors can include family history and ethnicity, with south Asian and African populations having a higher predisposition towards developing dementia and the conditions that are associated with it.