By XAN VARMUZA, Founder of Sportside
Around 850,000 people in the UK live with dementia, the umbrella term for memory issues, according to the latest data from Alzheimer’s Research. While there is no magic bullet, there is mounting evidence that regular physical exercise can slow or reduce the risk.
We know about the physical benefits of exercise but the world is still getting to grips with the impact on our “little grey cells.” How many of us tell our nearest and dearest we are off for a run to bulk up our hippocampus?
Results from 11 studies claim that regular exercise can significantly reduce the risk of developing dementia by 30 per cent. What’s more, exercise can also slow further deterioration in those who have already started to develop cognitive problems.
The difficult part is working out exactly what exercise is best for your memory. A study in the Frontiers in Ageing Neuroscience reported that exergaming trials, which includes video games alongside physical exercise, improved complex thinking.
Mayo Clinic Proceedings linked aerobic exercise such as fast walking, running and cycling to a literal increase in grey matter volume in the brain.
As ever, there is a health warning on these studies. Experts at the Mayo Clinic say the results are “encouraging, intriguing and contribute to the growing literature relating to exercise and brain health.”
One of them, Dr Ronald Petersen, said the most striking feature was the measured effect of exercise on brain structures involved in memory and learning, rather than motor function.
“This provides indirect evidence that aerobic exercise can have a positive impact on cognitive function in addition to physical conditioning,” he said.
While more trials are needed, experts recommend we do not wait. Just 120 minutes of moderate activity a week was enough to show some memory improvement in participants – in their case two brisk one-hour walks. However, jogging, swimming, housework..in fact anything that works up a sweat are just as effective.
The biggest barrier, of course, is taking that first step, finding someone to exercise with and to hold you to account. At Sportside we reckon we have the solution with an app that will help millions find not just their perfect sporting partner but communities of like-minded people.
And we hope the legacy will be a physically – and mentally – fitter and happier nation.