Dementia, or advanced cognitive impairment, has been tied to diabetes and blood glucose control in numerous studies. One study from last year showed that having poorly controlled type 2 diabetes was linked to a much greater dementia risk, while simply having diabetes was not. Another study showed that having diabetes — but not prediabetes — was linked to a much greater dementia risk, which may also be due to poor blood glucose control in many people with diabetes. Beyond aiming for good blood glucose control, there are lifestyle measures that may reduce your risk for dementia, including following a plant-based diet, consuming enough fiber, avoiding inflammatory foods, drinking coffee or tea, and getting enough physical activity.
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For the latest study on physical activity and dementia risk, researchers were interested in whether already getting regular physical activity at the time of a type 2 diabetes diagnosis — or starting a regular physical activity routine right after that diagnosis — was linked to the risk of developing dementia in the following years. The study participants were 133,751 people with newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes who participated in a health screening between 2009 and 2012, as well as a follow-up screening within two years of the first one. Participants were grouped into four different categories, based on their responses to survey questions at each of the health screenings — those who had a continuous lack of physical activity, those who continuously got regular physical activity, those who increased their physical activity to a regular basis, and those who decreased their physical activity to inadequate levels. During a follow-up period lasting until the end of 2017, new cases of dementia were recorded based on a dementia diagnosis code in participants’ medical records or taking a prescription drug for the condition, as noted in an article on the study at Endocrinology Advisor.
Regular physical activity linked to reduced dementia rates
During a median follow-up period of 4.8 years, the researchers identified 3,240 new cases of dementia — representing 2.4% of participants. The researchers found that participants who indicated getting regular physical activity at the time of their second health screening — regardless of how much physical activity they got at the time of their first screening — were 18% less likely to develop dementia during the follow-up period. More specifically, they were 15% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and 22% less likely to develop vascular dementia — two of the most common forms of dementia.
When participants were broken down into the four different physical activity categories, the researchers found that those who increased their physical activity to a regular basis were 14% less likely to develop dementia during the follow-up period, while those who got regular physical activity at the time of both screenings were 27% less likely to develop dementia. Participants who got regular physical activity at the time of both screenings were also 26% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and 38% less likely to develop vascular dementia.
Each of these risk reductions was found after researchers adjusted for several factors known to affect the risk of developing dementia, such as age, sex, and health history. The researchers also found that across different categories of participants — for example, particular age groups — the beneficial effects of physical activity on dementia risk were fairly consistent.
“Regular [physical activity] was independently associated with lower risks of all-cause dementia, [Alzheimer’s disease], and [vascular dementia] among individuals with new-onset type 2 diabetes,” the researchers concluded. “Regular [physical activity] should be encouraged to prevent dementia in high-risk populations and those with new-onset type 2 diabetes.”
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.”