Moderate Exercise Lowers Risk of Vascular Dementia
> 5/21/2008 5:11:00 PM


It is now undisputed that we can improve our physical health with exercise, but researchers are also making a strong case that exercise can also stave off declines in mental health. Older adults who exercise regularly can reduce their chances of developing vascular dementia, the second most common form of dementia behind only Alzheimer's disease.

The protective benefit of exercise is considerable. In an Italian study published in the December 2007 issue of the journal Neurology, subjects who engaged in the most physical activity were 76% less likely to develop vascular dementia than the least active group. Unfortunately, the researchers found no evidence that exercise reduced the subjects' chances of developing Alzheimer's disease.

Vascular dementia develops when blocked blood vessels restrict blood flow to the brain, and strokes occur when blood vessels become completely blocked. Blood vessels can be damaged by high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes, so it's not surprising that the same lifestyle changes that can keep these conditions at bay will also reduce an individual's risk for dementia. Exercise improves blood flow to the brain and can be done with other people, so that by staying physically active, older adults may stay socially active as well. Additionally, exercise may aid in the release of important brain chemicals or promote the growth of new brain cells.

By maintaining a healthy diet and staying physically active, we can improve our health and ward off a number of medical problems, including dementia. More research may be able to further clarify the protective quality of exercise, but these researchers have shown that even a small amount of exercise each day can contribute to mental and physical well-being.

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