Sitting all day is not good for our brain. According to a recent study, it has been suggested that having a sedentary lifestyle can increase the chances of developing dementia. (1)
The Link Between Sitting and Dementia
A study published online on September 12, 2023, by JAMA, states that remaining physically inactive for ten or more hours a day is linked to an increased risk of developing dementia. (1) People with dementia experience symptoms like confusion, memory loss, and difficulty expressing thoughts. (2)
Researchers turned to the UK Biobank, a medical data repository on half a million people residing in the U.K., and analyzed the link between a sedentary lifestyle and dementia. (1)
The database included information on about 50, 000 people who were aged 60 years or older and who wore accelerometers (or wrist devices that track movements) continuously for seven days sometime between 2013 to 2015. None of those individuals had dementia when they started wearing the accelerometer. (1)
Researchers for the new study used medical records and determined that about 6 years after people participated in the week-long experiments, 414 participants had developed dementia. (1)
The accelerometer data was analyzed and it was found that the risk of developing dementia increased if a participant spent about 10 sedentary hours a day. It was also found that participants of the study who were sedentary for 15 waking hours had triple the chance as their non-sedentary counterparts of developing dementia. (1)
The important point to be noted about the study was that instead of relying on subjective feelings about exercise, the researchers used objective wrist detectors. Also, there were five to eight years of follow-up.
This study was a great example of using technology and complex analyses to understand how our behavior impacts our risk of dementia. This is an impressive study since it included almost 50, 000 participants who wore activity tracking devices.
While not completely understood, reduced physical activity or a sedentary lifestyle causes a range of negative impacts, such as increased inflammation, weight gain, and reduced blood flow to the brain. Combining all these factors might increase an individual’s dementia risk, mostly due to direct and indirect damage to brain cells.
However, since the study did not analyze sedentary behavior in younger individuals, it is still unclear whether a career-long desk job could also impact future dementia risk.
Can Exercise Help in Preventing Dementia?
Exercise is linked with changes in the hippocampus (brain areas that are important for memory function), such as increased gray matter in those areas.
Exercise is beneficial for overall health, including preventing dementia. Exercising regularly improves cardiovascular health, and better cardiovascular health means healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels, which are associated with a lower risk of dementia.
Similarly, exercise also reduces the risk of insulin resistance and diabetes, and diabetes is linked to a higher risk of dementia.
Additionally, exercise is also known to reduce overall inflammation in the body, and this also reduces dementia risk.
Tips to Incorporate Exercise into Your Routine for Reducing Dementia Risk
A moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise helps in preventing cognitive decline and reduces the risk of dementia. Physical activity and exercise are essential for everyone at any age. If you are looking to introduce exercise into your daily routine and take a step forward in preventing dementia, then try out the under-mentioned tips.
Tip 1: Participate in enjoyable activities: Participating in enjoyable activities like dancing, swimming, or walking in the neighborhood can be one of the best ways to incorporate exercise into your daily fitness routine. Exercising every day will help you reduce dementia risk.
Tip 2: Exercise in Groups: Try easy, entertaining, group activities that not only help you add movement to your life but also give you a chance to have social interactions. This can help in reducing the risk of dementia.
Older adults who want to start exercising should discuss their physical activity plan with their primary care providers to ensure safety, especially those who have high blood pressure or heart disease.
Tip 3: Pair a Core Exercise With Something You Like to Do: Pair an exercise that feels like a chore with something that you like to do, such as listening to music or watching your favorite program while riding a stationary bike.
Tip 4: Do Not Sit More: Apart from being more active and incorporating exercise into your everyday routine, you should also sit less and try to avoid a sedentary lifestyle. So, be mindful of your sedentary behaviors and take short exercise or stretching breaks at regular intervals.
Tip 5: Have an Exercise Partner to Boost Motivation: Having an exercise partner while exercising can help you boost your motivation and help you attain your fitness goals. This can keep you moving and help you engage in regular exercise.
Apart from adding movement to your daily routine, find some other ways to reduce your risk of dementia, such as being engaged more in cognitively active tasks (especially when you are sedentary), such as reading, solving puzzles, or using a computer.
People who are sitting for more than ten hours a day might be at a higher risk of dementia. Incorporating exercise into your routine can reduce dementia risk. It is essential to start slow and gradually increase your activity level. Seek a doctor’s advice before starting to exercise.
- Raichlen, D. A., Aslan, D. H., Sayre, M. K., Bharadwaj, P. K., Ally, M., Maltagliati, S., Lai, M. H., Wilcox, R. R., Klimentidis, Y. C., & Alexander, G. E. Sedentary behavior and incident dementia among older adults. JAMA. 2023;330(10):934. doi:10.1001/jama.2023.15231
- National Institute on Aging. What Is Dementia? Symptoms, Types, and Diagnosis