Cardiovascular Fitness and Dementia: What You Need to Know
There are roughly 5.7 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s dementia today, and that number will rise in the coming years. In fact, between 2000 and 2015, the number of deaths from Alzheimer’s increased a shocking 123 percent! New research suggests that cardiovascular fitness may play a role in preventing this life-threatening condition, and with a new diagnosis made every 65 seconds, there is no better time to start prevention than now. Here is why cardiovascular fitness may help you.
Brain Boosting Powers
Many people know how important it is to exercise the mind when it comes to Alzheimer’s. But, research suggests that physical exercise that gets your heart pumping impacts brain health too. Scientists believe that cardiovascular exercise creates new cognitive connections and helps us increase blood flow and oxygen to the brain, which improves overall brain health.
This idea is supported in a recent study by neuroscientist Art Kramer from the University of Illinois. The study found that individuals who took part in moderate aerobic exercise at least three times a week increased their brain volume and improved their memory. Those in the study who did not exercise actually lost brain volume.
The Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation states that regular exercise cuts our risk for dementia by up to 50 percent. Walking, strength training and coordination exercises are all easy ways to get started, but you can make almost any health and wellness program fit your needs. Ask your doctor which type of cardiovascular exercise is best for you.
The Heart and Mind Go Hand in Hand
Although the relationship between heart health and brain health is not well understood when it comes to Alzheimer’s dementia, scientists do believe there is a link. Studies show that 80% of people with Alzheimer’s were also dealing with some form of cardiovascular disease at the time of their death, and we know that some cardiovascular conditions, like high blood pressure and high cholesterol, seem to increase the risk for dementia too.
Cardiovascular fitness is a popular primary health care strategy when it comes to caring for physical health. With the strong relationship between the brain and heart, it is likely that it can keep your mind healthy too. Using health screening services often to measure metrics like blood pressure and cholesterol can give you an idea of your risk for both cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s dementia.
One of the great benefits of cardiovascular exercise is that you do not have to do it alone. Most gyms, community centers, and community health education programs offer group fitness classes. However, if working out in a large group does not appeal to you, you can stick to exercising with one or two of your closest friends.
Research reveals a strong correlation between social connections and brain health, and it is believed that mental stimulation from a healthy social life lowers our overall risk of dementia. In fact, most doctors recommend social engagement as a form of Alzheimer’s prevention. Instead of taking your next walk alone, call up a friend and take that walk together to give your brain and body the care they need.
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s dementia. Until recently, it seemed health screening promotion and mental exercises were all we had to fight this disease. Luckily, new research suggests we can add cardiovascular fitness to the list of things we can do to limit our chances of being affected by it. While we cannot control all our risk factors when it comes to Alzheimer’s, we can work with our heart to give us a fighting chance.