Staying Fit Can Help Reduce the Risk of Developing Alzheimer’s Disease

For older adults, staying physically active is especially important for maintaining overall health. Regular exercise can help individuals reach or maintain a healthy weight, strengthen bones and muscles, reduce pain, and improve heart and lung function.

A new study from the Washington VA Medical Center and George Washington University shows that as a person’s overall fitness level improves, their risk of developing dementia decreases. Researchers tested and tracked the fitness levels of 649,605 veterans (average age 61) over the course of ten years. They then organized the group into five categories based on their recorded cardiorespiratory levels, a commonly used indicator of fitness measuring the body’s ability to supply oxygen to the muscles during physical activity.

In comparison to the least fit group, the findings show that the slightly more fit groups had a 13 percent lower risk of Alzheimer’s, the middle two groups were 20 and 26 percent less likely to develop the disease, while the most fit group saw their risk reduced by as much as 33 percent. These findings support the numerous studies that have found a connection between regular physical activity and brain health. In addition, the Alzheimer’s Association describes it as one of the best things people can do to reduce their chances of developing dementia.

Despite the overwhelming evidence highlighting the benefits of physical activity, about 31 million adults aged 50 years or older are inactive, meaning they get no physical activity beyond that of daily living. A nationally representative survey conducted by Data Decisions Group (DDG) and The Monday Campaigns, shows that older Americans (55+) make less of an effort to be physically active. This age group also doesn’t view Monday differently than any other day of the week, and describes a lower likelihood of initiating healthy behavior on Monday.

To encourage more physical activity in older adults, a weekly cue on Monday can become a tool to develop a more consistent practice. By starting each week with a focus on health, these individuals can initiate physical activity on Monday, then take small steps in subsequent weeks to maintain their fitness as well as achieve overall health and wellness goals.