From increasing the body’s insulin sensitivity to helping improve cardiovascular health, regular exercise is a multi-purpose tool for managing diabetes. And now a new report says adding more light physical activity could boost brain health, possibly helping stave off conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.
The findings, published recently in JAMA Network Open, suggest that engaging in regular physical activity may prevent cognitive decline and dementia. Active people have “lower metabolic and vascular risk factors,” which “may explain their propensity for healthy brain aging,” according to the researchers. Exactly how much exercise is needed to prevent dementia remains unclear.
However, it appears that even a little exercise might have big benefits.
According to the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, some physical activity is better than none, but achieving greater than 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per week is recommended for the greatest health benefits.
Using data from the Framingham Heart Study, the researchers found that “each additional hour spent in light-intensity physical activity was equivalent to approximately 1.1 years less brain aging.”
Specifically, researchers found that taking 10,000 or more steps per day was associated with a higher brain volume compared with taking 5,000 or fewer steps daily.
According to the researchers, results suggest that light exercise may help protect the brain from aging, even in people who don’t meet the current recommended guidelines.
“Every additional hour of light intensity physical activity was associated with higher brain volumes, even among individuals not meeting current Physical Activity Guidelines,” said Nicole Spartano, PhD, research assistant professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine. “These data are consistent with the notion that potential benefits of physical activity on brain aging may accrue at a lower, more achievable level of intensity or volume.”
Researchers noted that more work is needed to pinpoint the optimal amount of exercise needed to promote brain health.
“We have really only just begun to uncover the relationship between physical activity and brain health,” said Spartano.
Want to learn more about exercising with diabetes? Read “Add Movement to Your Life,” “The Health Benefits of Walking,” and “Picking the Right Activity to Meet Your Fitness Goals.”