We’ve been told it time and time again: Exercise is critical for your physical health. Yet few of us keep up this healthy habit, according to recent statistics, a habit that seems to start in adolescence.
But making this mistake could make you 2.5 times more likely to develop early-onset dementia, according to a new study published in the journal Brain.
“This makes it important to initiate more research into how physical and mental exercise can affect the prevalence of different types of dementia,” says Jenny Nyberg, lead researcher of the study. “Perhaps exercise can be used as both a prophylactic and a treatment for those in the risk zone for early-onset dementia.”
Although dementia is usually thought to strike people in their elderly years, around 4 percent of Americans diagnosed with the disease are classified as having the early-onset version, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. That means a whopping 200,000 Americans get it as early as age 30.
Now, the reason why may be clear.
Looking at a total of over 1 million Swedish males, researchers looked for two pieces of data: Their exercise level and cognitive performance. Then, between 1968 and 2005, they continued to collect more data on these habits while tracking the rate of cognitive decline. Their intelligence was also measured by tracking their IQ scores.
After adjusting for other factors that may influence a higher dementia risk, such as a family history of the disease and certain medical conditions, researchers began comparing all of the data and soon discovered a pattern.
For those who got in poor amounts of exercise starting in their youth, they were 2.5 times more likely to develop dementia, according to the research. But what made it worse was having a low IQ score–something that increased their dementia risk by 7 times.
Those are scary numbers.
However, it doesn’t surprise researcher George Kuhn, a neuroscientist for the University of Gothenburg.
“Physical exercise increases nerve cell complexity and function and even generation of new nerve cells in the adult brain, which strengthens our mental and physiological functions,” says Gothenburg. “In other words, good cardiovascular fitness makes the brain more resistant to damage and disease.”
What To Do
To fix this–something experts admit is easier said than done–your best solution is to get off the couch and just move. It doesn’t matter how you exercise either, as long as you do it. Challenging your brain with brain exercises is also helpful for reducing the decline in intelligence that often occurs as a person ages.
“In conclusion, lower cardiovascular fitness and cognitive performance in early adulthood were associated with an increased risk of early-onset dementia and mild cognitive impairment later in life, and the greatest risks were observed for individuals with a combination of low cardiovascular fitness and low cognitive performance,” says Nyberg.
Readers: How do you stay active on a regular basis?