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Physical Activity Can Lower The Risk of Dementia Particularly in Men

July 13, 2010

A number of research findings were just presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease 2010 (AAICAD 2010) in Honolulu, HI. One of the most promising concerned the potential preventive effect of exercise on brain function. The premier long-term trial, the Framingham Study, is a population-based study that has followed participants residing in the town of Framingham, Massachusetts since 1948 for cardiovascular risk factors; it now also tracks cognitive performance. Zaldy Tan, MD, MPH, of Brigham and Women's Hospital, GRECC, VA Boston and Harvard Medical School, and colleagues estimated the levels of 24-hour physical activity of more than 1,200 elderly participants from the Framingham Study during the study's 20th examination cycle in 1986-87 and followed them for the development of dementia. They divided the participants into five groups based on level of physical activity, from lowest (Q1) to highest (Q5). Over two decades of follow-up 242 participants developed dementia (of which 193 were Alzheimer's). The researchers found that participants who performed moderate to heavy levels of physical activity had about a 40 percent lower risk of developing any type of dementia. At the other end of the scale, people who reported the lowest levels of physical activity were 45 percent more likely to develop any type of dementia compared to those who reported higher levels of activity. Similar results were seen when analyses were made to Alzheimer's alone. Analyses showed that the observed associations were largely evident in men in the study. "This is the first study to follow a large group of individuals for this long a period of time," Tan said. "It suggests that lowering the risk for dementia may be one additional benefit of maintaining at least moderate physical activity, even into the eighth decade of life."