Doing This Exercise 3 Times a Week Slashes Your Dementia Risk, Study Says

Research suggests increasing blood flow to your brain may be the key to fighting off cognitive decline.

We all know that exercise is important to keeping your body in top shape, especially as you age. But mounting research shows that breaking a sweat can be beneficial for more than just your heart health. In fact, a study has found that doing one simple exercise just three times a week can drastically reduce your risk of dementia. Read on to see what kind of workout you might want to work into your routine.

RELATED: Doing This One Thing Twice a Day Lowers Your Dementia Risk, Study Says.

Walking just three times a week can reduce your risk of developing dementia.

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Researchers from the University of Texas Southwestern (UTSW) set out to better understand how blood flow to the brain can affect the onset of dementia. To test their theory, 70 participants between the ages of 55 and 80 that had been diagnosed with memory loss were randomly split into two groups. Researchers then instructed one set of participants to complete stretching exercises three to five times each week for 30 to 40 minutes. The other group was instructed to take a brisk walk three to five times weekly for the same duration of time.

After a year, MRIs showed that those who were in the group prescribed aerobic exercise had increased blood flow to their brains and that the blood vessels in their necks were less stiff. Participants in the stretching group did not display the same results.

The study's authors plan to further study the effects of exercise and blood flow on the brain.

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While there wasn't enough evidence to draw a concrete link between walking and dementia, the researchers concluded that the results warranted more study on the relationship between increased blood flow to the brain. The team said their findings will help guide their next phase of research, Eating Well reports.

"There is still a lot we don't know about the effects of exercise on cognitive decline later in life," C. Munro Cullum, PhD, professor of psychiatry at UTSW and co-senior author of the study, said in a statement. "MCI [mild cognitive impairment] and dementia are likely to be influenced by a complex interplay of many factors, and we think that, at least for some people, exercise is one of those factors."

RELATED: If You Sleep This Much, Your Dementia Risk Is High, New Study Says.

The findings add to mounting research that shows there's a link between exercise and brain health.

older white women couple walking and smiling outside
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Previous research has shown that a lack of blood circulation to the brain can cause cognitive decline known as vascular dementia. The study's authors say their findings support the idea that exercises such as walking might be one of the simplest ways to reduce the chances of developing dementia later in life.

"This is part of a growing body of evidence linking exercise with brain health," Rong Zhang, PhD, the study's leader and a professor of neurology at UTSW, said in a statement. "We've shown for the first time in a randomized trial in these older adults that exercise gets more blood flowing to your brain."

Zhang also said that their results could help shape discussions doctors have about preventative for neurological issues. "Having physiological findings like this can also be useful for physicians when they talk to their patients about the benefits of exercise. We now know, based on a randomized, controlled trial, that exercise can increase blood flow to the brain, which is a good thing," he said.

Other recent studies support the theory that exercise can boost cognitive function.

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Another recent study published in the journal Frontiers in Endocrinology also found a connection between exercise and a boost in brain health. Researchers tracked 23 participants with an average age of 65 that was split into two groups. The study team told one set of participants to continue following their normal daily routines, while the other group was asked to complete three cardio exercises on a treadmill each week that increased in intensity over the course of the study.

Researchers then tested each participant for biomarkers of a healthy brain, including Cathepsin B (CTSB), brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), and klotho. Results found that those in the exercise group saw a positive increase in the healthy biomarkers at the end of the six-month study.

"[The findings] support the beneficial effects of exercise training on brain function and brain health in asymptomatic individuals at risk for Alzheimer's disease," Henriette van Praag, PhD, from Florida Atlantic University's Schmidt College of Medicine, said in a statement.

RELATED: This Dementia Sign Can Show Up 16 Years Before Diagnosis, New Study Says.

Zachary Mack
Zachary covers beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He's the owner of Alphabet City Beer Co. in New York City and is a Certified Cicerone. Read more
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