A physically active lifestyle can play a significant role in the well-being of a person. It is beneficial for our physical and mental health, as it improves the quality of life which keeps the body strong to fight off diseases like dementia.
Exercising regularly will make our circulatory system more efficient by working our muscles and heart - making them stronger in the process. Sport brings the physical element, with the added benefits that work not only the body but the mind. As you are pitted against an opponent, battling to better each other and come out on top. That competitive edge brings about a mental battle which is easily the defining factor in your performance. The mind is the most powerful weapon.
Katzman, a renowned psychologist, proposed in 1993 that individuals with higher educational levels are more resistant to the effects of dementia as a result of having greater cognitive reserve and increased complexity of neuronal synapses. So, like education, participation in leisure and sporting activities may lower the risk of dementia by improving cognitive reserve in an individual.
Cognition is the scientific term for mental processes, like judgement, perception, memorisation, and in sport this is important as participants need to be able to make split-second decisions under pressure. Cognition in sport is so important because if you cannot read the game, anticipate what will happen and react, then an Athlete's effectiveness is drastically reduced.
What the Studies Say about Dementia and Sport
A study from the University of Eastern Finland found that physical activity in midlife seems to protect from dementia in old age. The April 2014 study titled "Leisure-Time Physical Activity from Mid- to Late Life, Body Mass Index, and Risk of Dementia” was published in the journal Alzheimer's & Dementia.
The researchers involved in the study found that participants who engaged in physical activity at least twice a week had a lower risk of dementia than those who were less active. The research also showed becoming more physically active after midlife has also shown to lower dementia risk.
The Finnish researchers said that the recent findings from the Cardiovascular Risk Factors, Ageing and Incidence of Dementia (CAIDE) study also demonstrated that people who took part in physical activity at least twice per week had a lower risk of dementia than individuals who were less active.
The researchers emphasise that being physically active after midlife may also contribute to lowering dementia risk, especially in people who are overweight or obese. These results give some clues for ways that can help prevent dementia and extend the quality of old age.
In recent months, scientists have uncovered information on an “exercise hormone” called Irisin that is also linked to improved health and cognitive function. Irisin is a hormone that is released during exercise when your cardio-respiratory system is engaged and your muscles are exerted. It particularly transforms white fat cells that store calories into brown fat cells that burn off energy after you finish exercising and it stops fatty tissues forming which is particular important for the elderly.
This means that with more exercise, and release of Irisin, this can prevent high-cholesterol, risk of strokes and heart-disease. With Irisin effectively being produced due to physical activity being common practice in an individual’s life this correlation would mean the reduction of fatty tissues that in turn would reduce the possibility of grey matter volumes in the frontal, parietal and cingulate cortex where dementia occurs.
Cardiff University released a study where they found five factors which were integral to avoiding diseases:
1. Sport and Exercise
3. Low Body weight
4. Healthy diet
5. Low alcohol intake
People who were involved in the study, who adhered to four of the five factors, had a 60% decline in dementia and cognitive decline rates with sport and exercise cited as the strongest factor. A professor involved in the study was amazed by the results and was eager to emphasise the importance of the findings especially with an ageing population.
The study was also a great indicator to show that very few people live and follow a healthy lifestyle. Cardiff University’s study was cast over 35 years and the closing comments suggest that if half of the dementia-affected population participated in sport and exercise there would have been a 13% reduction in those dementia cases.
Added benefits of Sport and Exercise
- Improved Sleeping
- Reducing the risk of falls by improving balance and strength
- Improving mood, self-esteem and opportunity for social interaction which reduces the feeling of isolation.
- Keeps bones strong reducing risk of bone cancers and osteoporosis.
Let’s get started
Looking to get back into regular exercise or taking up a sport for the first time; it is important to take into account age and ability as well as your needs and preferences. It is important to talk to your GP or physiotherapist before undertaking sport or regular exercise as it will not only put your mind at ease but they might also give you advice and tips to prolong your new active lifestyle. As well as sport and exercise it is important to follow these guidelines to amplify reducing the risk of dementia.
A Healthy Diet and Dementia
A low-fat diet of fresh fruit and vegetables as well as high-fibre whole grains should be the basis of your day-to-day eating structure. We highly recommend a Mediterranean style diet. A Mediterranean diet is traditionally high in fruits, vegetables, oily fish, moderate diary, low in meat, sugar and saturated fats. There is evidence that shows high levels of anti-oxidants from the high fruit and vegetable intake protect against the damage to brain cells associated with dementia as well as increasing the levels of proteins to help protect the brain cells further.
This type of diet also shows an association with lower levels of strokes, diabetes type 2 and cardiovascular disease.
Smoking and Dementia
Most people are aware of the damage smoking does to the lungs and that smoking can increase the risk of developing cancer. So, it’s no surprise that smoking is one of the biggest public health threats and kills over six million people a year.
Did you know that those people who smoke have a 45% higher risk of developing dementia than non-smokers? According to the WHO (World Health Organisation) who state that 14% of all dementia cases worldwide can be linked directly to smoking, have also said that exposure to second-hand smoke may also lead to an increased risk of dementia. This compared to a study in the UK that suggests heavy smokers may have a 70% higher risk of developing all forms of dementia when compared to non-smokers.
Smoking increases the plasma levels of an amino acid called homocysteine. High levels of homocysteine increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia as well as other, rarer, forms of dementia.
Stopping smoking can significantly reduce the risk of developing dementia; research suggests that after several years of not smoking, the risk of dementia in former smokers is close to that of people who never smoked. Every little bit counts, as after 20 min after you stop smoking your blood pressure and heart rate return to normal, after 48-hours of no smoking the carbon monoxide levels in your body are eliminated, between two and 12 weeks of no smoking your circulation improves which allows you to participate in physical exercise and sport easier and your immune system improves as well.
It’s not just about taking part
If participating in sport is out of the question; there is always another way in which sport can help. Cherished sporting memories can also be used to help tackle dementia. The Sporting Memories Network uses sport reminiscence to engage people with dementia and increase their confidence. The charity runs groups and workshops nationwide which sparks widespread enthusiasm and also aims to ease loneliness and depression.
Reliving important sporting moments from history allows to once again be involved in iconic moments like Ali vs Frazier ‘Rumble in the Jungle, England winning the football World Cup in 1966 or when England won the rugby world cup in 2003. These moments activate our medial temporal lobe associated with memory and also releases adrenaline which works our heart helping strengthen it. A positive mind is a healthy one.
What Lifeline24 thinks about Dementia and Sport
The minister for sport, Tracey Crouch, has advised older people to take part in more sport and exercise saying that “sport is out there for everyone”. The article shows that exercise can combat depression, help with loneliness and even prevent dementia. All common issues for elderly people.
At Lifeline24 we love seeing older people enjoy their independence at home as much as possible and the following link proves that age should not prevent people from enjoying sports they love - in this case it’s athletics!
Even if your physical abilities aren’t up to those standards, exercise is still vital for both a healthy mind and body. You don’t need to be winning any medals to enjoy the benefits that exercise will give you. Just make sure that you’re having fun, moving your body and you’re in good company!
The best sports for older people
Before deciding on a sport there are some questions to ask yourself:
- What activities did I enjoy as a child?
- Which group sports do I enjoy?
- How can I amend these sports to suit my current abilities?
You may have played football in your teens - you can easily adapt the game to be a gentle kick about with friends, rather than a full game of football. Or you could even join the latest footballing craze of walking football to ensure your elderly health is in a good condition.
Once you’ve listed some ideas down have a go and enjoy! If you feel embarrassed to get started take some inspiration from these elderly residents learn 'Whip/Nae Nae’. Love them!
If you have an elderly loved one feel free to share this article with them and join in with them! Let us know which you choose in the comments below or tweet us @Lifeline24.
Sport is a beautiful and lovely thing, whether you are watching it or participating,. It involves people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds. There are hundreds of sports to get involved in and each one just as challenging or even more so than the next - which allows those participating to stretch themselves not only physically but mentally. Sport contributes to our physical fitness, social interaction and mental well-being which is the battleground for which we face dementia.
In the UK, there are nearly one million people living with Dementia, with a forecast of nearly two million living with the disease by 2025. In the population aged over 65, one in every 14 people have the disease (7.1% based on a 2013 survey). Dementia costs the NHS up to £4.3 billion. These figures are overwhelming to comprehend especially as dementia is a growing problem not just in the UK but throughout the world.
It is important that we do all we can to prevent and reduce our own risk of dementia. Understanding is a starting point, there is plenty of information about the disease at your local GP, hospitals, pharmacies and searching online is always full of great resources such as Dementia UK.
We have outlined sport and exercise as our top pick to help reduce risk of dementia as its benefits are outstanding, not just for your body but most importantly for this issue, the mind too. As we develop technologically, our chances of finding cures and better treatments will increase which is always hopeful as we battle through illness and disease as a society.
Sport not only brings people together but also provides an escape from individual’s day to day struggles of life and illness. Sport provides an outlet for us to be competitive, develop skills, strengthen our body and fortify our minds diminishing Dementia’s onset. Dementia attacks our mental processes; trying to weaken our memory, change our personality and impair our reasoning but with sport and exercise and all the additional benefits we can keep this menace at bay and live a healthy and happy lifestyle.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in September 2015 and has been updated to include up-to-date facts regarding current issues.