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Moderate Physical Activity Linked to Lower Dementia Risk

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Moderate Physical Activity Linked to Lower Dementia Risk

Just a few minutes of moderate physical activity each day may substantially reduce the risk for dementia in people ages 65 and older, according to a new study published in the journal JAMA Network Open.

Cognitive impairment and dementia are a serious concern for many people with diabetes, since research has found that having diabetes increases the risk for cognitive decline. In fact, one recent study found that over the course of just a few years, people with known diabetes for five years or longer were 62% more likely to develop dementia. Other studies have found a strong link between blood glucose control and the risk for cognitive impairment. One recent study found that compared with not having diabetes, people with well controlled type 2 diabetes were 20% more likely to develop cognitive impairment — but people with poorly controlled type 2 diabetes were 101% more likely to develop it. Another recent study found that in people with type 1 diabetes, having either high or low blood glucose levels — or both — was linked to a higher risk for dementia.

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Luckily, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk for cognitive impairment and dementia — including focusing on blood glucose control. You may also be able to reduce your risk for dementia through certain lifestyle measures, such as avoiding inflammation-promoting foods and regularly drinking tea or coffee — and, as the latest study shows, getting enough physical activity.

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To examine the relationship between physical activity and dementia, researchers looked at a nationwide database in South Korea that included 62,286 people ages 65 and older who didn’t have dementia at the start of the study. Participants had a health check-up confirming their cognitive status between January 2009 and December 2012, and were followed for new cases of dementia until December 2013. Participants’ physical activity was assessed using a standard questionnaire at the beginning of the study.

Since there are so many different kinds of physical activity, researchers used participants’ responses to come up with a standard measure called metabolic equivalent minutes per week (MET-min/wk). Most current guidelines for physical activity recommend 500-999 MET-min/wk, which is equivalent to 150-300 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75-150 minutes of vigorous physical activity each week. If you’re active every day, that translates to walking for at least about 21 minutes or running for at least about 11 minutes.

Increased physical activity linked to reduced risk of dementia

The researchers found that compared with participants who were completely inactive, those who were insufficiently active — getting 1-499 MET-min/wk of activity, with an average of 284 — were 10% less likely to develop dementia. Those who were active — getting 500-999 MET-min/wk of activity, with an average of 675 — were 20% less likely to develop dementia. Those who were highly active — getting 1,000 or more MET-min/wk of activity, with an average of 1,627 — were 28% less likely to develop dementia. Even a fairly low amount of physical activity — 1-299 MET-min/wk of activity, with an average of 189 — was linked to a 14% lower risk for dementia once other factors were adjusted for. The link between activity and dementia risk did not depend on participants’ age, sex, or chronic health conditions once people with a history of stroke were taken out of the analysis.

“A progressive decrease in the [risk for] dementia was associated with increasing physical activity level,” the researchers concluded, noting that “this association started with a low amount of total physical activity.” So even if you feel like you can’t get the recommended amount of physical activity, this study shows that just getting a little bit may have a real impact on your risk for cognitive decline.

Want to learn more about maintaining cognitive health with diabetes? Read “Nine Tips to Keep Your Memory With Diabetes,” “Keeping Your Brain Strong With Diabetes” and “Memory Fitness: How to Get It, How to Keep It.”

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips on social media

A freelance health writer and editor based in Wisconsin, Phillips has a degree from Harvard University. He is a former Editorial Assistant for Diabetes Self-Management and has years of experience covering diabetes and related health conditions. Phillips writes on a variety of topics, but is especially interested in the intersection of health and public policy.

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