As if you needed another reason to get up and move more, a new study has found that having an active lifestyle can keep your brain healthy, slowing the progression of Parkinson's disease and genetically influenced dementia. In research published in the journal Neurology, South Korean scientists tracked 173 older adults who had early signs of those disorders; 27% of them had a genetic variant that predisposes people to Alzheimer's disease.
Using cognitive tests given at the beginning of the study, then one and two years later, researchers found that people who were more physically active experienced less gene-related cognitive decline. "Problems with thinking skills and memory can have a negative impact on people's quality of life and ability to function, so it's exciting that increasing physical activity could have the potential to delay or prevent cognitive decline," said study author Jin-Sun Jun, MD, of Hallym University in Seoul, South Korea. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You Had COVID and Didn't Know It.
What Are Parkinson's and Dementia?
Parkinson's disease is a disorder caused by the death of dopamine-producing cells in the brain. The reason those cells die is not fully understood; scientists think a combination of genetic and environmental factors are responsible. Symptoms include tremor, impaired balance and coordination, limb stiffness, and slowness of movement.
The genesis of dementia—an umbrella term for a decline in memory, judgment and the ability to communicate—is also unclear overall. This study involved people with a variant in the APOE e4 gene, a predisposition for developing dementia.
Previous studies have found that staying active may delay dementia. In 2012, research published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease found that in older adults, an active lifestyle—defined as participation in mental, physical, or social activity—delayed dementia onset by an average of 17 months. The researchers found that people who undertook more of the three types of activity experienced a greater delay in dementia onset than those who participated in less.
How to Stay Active
Although experts aren't sure why activity keeps your brain healthy, their message is clear: Use your cognition or lose it. "Formal education in any stage of life will help reduce your risk of cognitive decline and dementia," the Alzheimer's Association advises. "For example, take a class at a local college, community center or online." Even less formal ways of challenging your mind—such as doing puzzles or playing games—are brain-protective.
Additionally, "Staying socially engaged may support brain health," the Alzheimer's Association says. "Pursue social activities that are meaningful to you. Find ways to be part of your local community — if you love animals, consider volunteering at a local shelter. If you enjoy singing, join a local choir or help at an after-school program. Or, just share activities with friends and family."
Also helpful: Maintaining a healthy weight and blood pressure, getting enough quality sleep, and engaging in regular cardiovascular exercise. And to protect your health, don't miss these Signs You're Getting One of the "Most Deadly" Cancers.