As we are living longer than ever, so the number of people living with dementia is increasing too. Predictions are that cases of dementia will double every 20 years, and that by 2050, there will be more than 130 million people worldwide living with the disease. 

Dementia is a wide-reaching term that describes a number of individual diseases, so complete prevention is very difficult to achieve. However, studies have shown that in many early onset cases, the progression of the disease can be slowed through healthy living strategies, and in particular exercise. 

How can exercise keep the brain healthy? 
A study at the University of Nottingham found that a stress hormone produced by the brain during moderate exercise could protect the brain from the changes caused by dementia diseases. The hormone, called CRF, or corticotrophin-releasing factor, has been shown to keep mental facilities sharp, and do help nerve cells stay alive. 

In people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, the researchers found a significantly lower level of CRF. Production of this stress hormone can be stimulated by both physical and mental exercise, and could have a beneficial impact on slowing the progression of the disease, particularly where memory is concerned. 

Numerous other studies have supported these findings, and it is becoming clear that even moderate exercise can boost memory, mental processing speed and can even build the size of the hippocampus, even in previously sedentary adults. Just walking at a moderate pace three times a week could reduce mental decline by up to 10 years in older adults. 

Exercises for older adults 
When we talk about exercise for dementia, it’s not only the body that needs a work out. Exercising both the body and the brain has been shown to tackle the progression of the disease, and to help older adults enjoy better overall wellbeing. 

Physical exercises 
Increasing the heart rate and breathing more deeply is good for all areas of physical wellness. Sending all that fresh blood to the brain can help keep it healthy, as well as boosting levels of the dementia preventing stress hormone, CRF. Here are some ideas for physical activities that can be enjoyed by a range of older people:

• Gardening; either low exertion like weeding or pruning, or more physical like mowing or raking
• Bowls and skittles
• Dance classes, either formal dance or improvised movement; chair dancing is fine too!
• Chair exercises such as turning, marching, bending and raising limbs
• Walking
• Swimming
• Tai chi or yoga 

Physical exercises should challenge the body, but without causing injury or pain. Encouraging old people to do ‘one more’ or to push themselves just a little bit further will maximise the impact of any exercises undertaken. 

Mental exercises 
Keeping your mind active can help slow the effects of dementia by reducing cell damage and supporting the growth of new cells. Nerves will create new pathways between each other, and old connections will be strengthened. Try some of these activities to keep your brain sharp:

• Learn a language
• Do puzzles and crosswords
• Play board games with other people
• Try video games or online memory games
• Read and write
• Play a musical instrument 

There are lots of ways you can keep exercising your brain, and the benefits can be long lasting. Just 10 hours of brain training has been shown to produce results that can last up to 10 years, so make an investment now to reap the rewards later.