Healthy Beginnings

Dissecting dementia: Upping your exercise can improve cognitive levels

Aerobic exercise can help prolong the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

Due to advances in science, it seems as if it is becoming more and more common to find out that if something is wrong with us, or right with us, often it’s because of our genetic makeup.

With increasing amounts of in-depth research being conducted, we’ve discovered that almost everything about we humans is a genetic trait of some sort; our hair or eye color, our muscle fibers, our body type and, unfortunately, diseases too.

Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are no exception to this rule. Dementia is a blanket term used to describe a decline in mental ability such as memory loss and confusion.

Alzheimer’s disease is a branch of dementia but does not encompass all dementia patients; if someone has Alzheimer’s, they have dementia, but not all of those who have dementia have Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s can cause problems with memory loss and ability to think and behave, and it becomes progressively worse over time. There is currently no known cure for dementia, and Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

In addition to our genetic predisposition, there are other factors that increase the risk of dementia, including diabetes mellitus, hypertension and obesity.

Even though there is no cure for dementia, research has shown that aerobic exercise can help prolong the onset of the disease and reduce its progression.

In one study, a researcher tracked 70 people with mild cognitive impairment for six months. This group was required to participate in moderate aerobic exercise for 45-60 minutes a session, four days a week. The results showed that the group had an increase in blood flow in the memory and processing areas of the brain.

They also had measurable improvements in attention, planning and organization abilities, which is known as executive function. Those who exercised more vigorously throughout this study experienced a decrease in a specific protein associated with Alzheimer’s called “tau.”

Another study followed a group of seniors aged 60-80 who walked 30-45 minutes three days per week over the course of one year. These subjects produced a 2 percent increase in their hippocampus, which is the part of the brain responsible for memory.

Exercise also helps reduce plaque formation in the brain and helps reduce bone morphogenetic protein, which slows down the formation of neurons in the brain, reducing neurogenesis.

Not only will increasing the amount of exercise in your day improve cognitive levels, it may also help reduce other risk factors such as diabetes mellitus, hypertension and obesity.

Lowering all of our risk factors for dementia is going to greatly improve our ability to prolong the onset of the disease and combat it if the disease has already set in.

Addressing all issues including diet, exercise, brain training and managing and reducing metabolic and vascular risk factors can greatly improve the potential risk and rapid decline of the disease.

So start moving. It’s never too late and everyone has to start somewhere. Incorporating a healthier lifestyle through diet and exercise is going to improve not just physical health, but mental health as well.

Sarah Stalling (B.S., M.S., M.A.) is a former professional soccer player who works as a personal trainer at The Change Place in Carson City. For more information, visit or call 775-283-0699 to learn more.