what happens when movement meets memory!

Can regular, structured exercise reduce cognitive decline and improve memory and communication?

Dementia is an umbrella term for a myriad of conditions leading to cognitive decline; with Lewy Body Dementia being the second most common form of Dementia after Alzheimer’s.

The risk of falls doubles for the older population living with a form of Dementia compared to those living without. What does this mean for our ageing population? For those affected with dementia these declines in coordination, balance, alertness and muscle mass can lead to a reduction in both ability and confidence in completing daily activities. Our loved ones become less self-reliant with day-to-day living. This cutback of independence can lead to stress, anxiety, depression and a reduction in social activities; it can also increase carer stress and premature admission in to aged-care facilities.

Risk factors associated with developing Dementia include, Diabetes, midlife hypertension, midlife obesity, smoking, depression and physical inactivity. The good news being that all of these risk factors are mostly modifiable through healthy lifestyle, inclusive of exercise!

Exercise can help increase what is referred to as our, “Cognitive Reserve.” The Cognitive Reserve Hypothesis theorises that if brain tissue has sustained a functional loss or is damaged in one region, that the original level of functioning may be able to be maintained by other regions of the brain working harder to counteract the negative effects of the altered neurons. Cognitive Reserve is essentially your brain’s way of finding an alternate route to help you reach your destination or, “accomplish tasks,” when road-blocks have been established.

Not only can exercise improve your quantity and quality of Cognitive Reserve, which has been proven through research that people with greater cognitive reserve are able to curb or prolong the onset of symptoms affiliated with dementia and it’s associated degenerative brain changes, but exercise can also reduce the amount and rate at which grey and white matter are lost within the brain due to ageing.

Aerobic exercise has shown to be of the mode of choice. Although more research needs to be done in relation to exercise specifics such as duration, frequency, type and intensity, a new study has revealed that after as little as ONE session of structured exercise, circuits within the brain demonstrated a notable increase in activation of the area associated with memory.  

Exercise has presented to be of meaningful importance in respect to Dementia, as regular exercise has shown to produce an improvement in:

  • Memory and one’s ability for efficient access to memories

  • Alertness

  • Problem solving

  • Communication

  • Muscle mass/strength and mobility for improved activities of daily living

  • Coordination

  • Balance and proprioception for a reduction in the risk of and the severity of falls

  • Mental health, including social inclusion, ability to manage stress and a reduction in the diagnosis and frequency of symptoms of anxiety and depression

  • Confidence and independence for activities of daily living. 

So, not only does exercise empower the individual to maintain independence and wellbeing but it also empowers the brain’s ability to tolerate degeneration and cognitive decline. High quality, personalised and expertly prescribed exercise is the best medicine for our older generation.

Chantel Cutrupi