Dementia Awareness: The Benefits of Physical Activity

If you are still struggling to find enough reasons to support why exercise should be a significant non-negotiable part of your weekly schedule, here’s a big one- regular exercise reduces the risk of dementia, FACT! Briefly, dementia is a growing health concern, with the prevalence ranging from 1-2% in those aged ~65 years, to as high as 30% among those aged >85 years (1).


To provide some insight to this damaging condition, dementia is incurable progressive neurodegenerative disease, with the exact etiology (causative factors) of the disease relatively unknown. There are many different forms of dementia and each has its own causes, with the most common types of being Alzheimer’s disease, Vascular dementia, Parkinson’s disease, Dementia with Lewy bodies, Fronto Temporal Lobar Degeneration (FLTD), Huntington’s disease, Alcohol related dementia (Korsakoff’s syndrome) and Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease. However, 60-90% of cases have been reported as specifically Alzheimer’s (2).

Generally, dementia results in a progressive decline in memory and function, and is often accompanied by both behavioural and psychological issues. Treatments include the medications memantine (Namenda) and donepezil (Aricept), although such drugs simply slow down the advancement of the disease, and sadly do not provide an actual cure. The burden of this tragic disease on the individual, family and health care systems is significant, with a progressive loss function and consequent independence, causing family members to provide a great deal of care and supervision. Economically, annual costs related to dementia have been estimated to be in the region of $159-215 billion, with 75-85% related to non-medical home or institutional care (3). Strikingly, this sum is projected to rise to over $500 billion by the year 2040 (4).


Fortunately, a continually growing strong body of evidence demonstrates that as an individual’s physical activity levels increase, the risk of developing dementia decreases (5, 6). Further, multiple studies have demonstrated that physical activity has a positive impact on cognition, behaviour and function once diagnosed with dementia (7). In detail, exercise promotes vascular health by decreasing blood pressure, improving blood lipids, reducing obesity and inflammation. More specifically, exercise increases cerebral blood flow and oxygen, and induces fibroblast growth factor in the brain (specifically in the hippocampus) (8).


The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommend for adults to engage in moderate aerobic physical activity for 150 minutes per week, equating to approximately 30 minutes on 5 days of the week. Additionally, we should also ensure to undertake some form of muscle strengthening (strength/resistance training) (9), including flexibility and balance exercises, at least 2-3 days per week (10).


Not sure where to start? Don’t over-think it, you do not require a gym membership or a personal trainer to reap the benefits or simple physical activity. Start small and figure out what works for you. Walking, cycling, swimming, badminton, dancing, hiking, netball, soccer, tennis, yoga, pilates, are all examples of way to engage in movement and kick start your exercise regime. Whatever it is, COMMIT to it, ENJOY it and OWN it for long-term physical and cognitive health.


For more information or to find out more about Dementia Awareness Month, with details on specific local events in WA, please visit:

If you would like further information on exercise to prevent dementia, please contact Absolute Balance by email, or head to our website


Jenny Conlon (BSc, MSc, Ph.D. Candidate)

Exercise Consultant