Does exercise prevent Alzheimer’s? It can. When you combine the results of 11 studies, it shows that regular exercise can significantly reduce the risk of developing dementia by about 30 percent. For Alzheimer’s disease, the risk was reduced by 45 percent.
Your next question is probably, how does exercise help prevent Alzheimer’s? Exercise stimulates the brain in a way that helps maintain neural connections. Regular aerobic exercise can also help the brain to create new neural pathways. I don’t know a better definition of “use it or lose it.”
New studies have shown that you can add tricks to your aerobic exercises to make them even more cognitively stimulating. The most enjoyable addition is simply walking and talking with a friend. If you have to go it alone, or with just the dogs like me, you can play a few mind games while you walk. Try counting backward from 500 by sevens. You can also try to name as many words that start with the same letter in a certain amount of time.
Another dual challenge would be to name what you see in a foreign language. That’s a twofer in the cognitive stimulation game! If you listen to a language learning podcast while you walk, it might make this easier.
Other simple tricks
To help stimulate your brain while you exercise does require two people, but I’m confident you can develop something that works well for you. Take turns calling out different items you see as you walk. Decide if it’s an animal, mineral, or neither. For each category, have an additional move you complete; for each dog you see, do a squat, each plant (mineral), do a jumping jack, and if your partner calls out an item that’s neither, complete a lunge on each side.
Get creative and see how many different cognitive enhancements you can create. Variety is also good for your brain.
In this episode, Christopher Howard, Ph.D., and I talk to his trainer friend Austin about exercise and brain health. We discuss specific things related to aging and movement, like balance moves. It’s a step up from past exercise conversations.
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