Dementia: Reduce your risk by staying active


Sarah Shair, MA, research associate at the MADC

At a recent outreach event, I asked people to name something they could do to reduce their risk for developing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. The most common answer that I received was, “do crossword puzzles.”

While crossword puzzles and other brain games are great for your mind, another important and effective way to reduce your risk of dementia is with physical activity. Numerous research studies have linked regular physical activity to a reduced risk of experiencing cognitive decline and developing dementia.

How does it work?
Use it or lose it! As we age, our brains tend to shrink. Physical exercise, however, counteracts this process and actually enables our brains to grow new neurons. In fact, brain imaging studies comparing the brains of active versus inactive adults have found the brains of active adults are larger, especially in the hippocampus, the part of the brain that is responsible for memory.

Good for the brain, good for the body!
Just as regular exercise can reduce your risk of developing health conditions like heart disease, diabetes and cancer; it can help reduce your risk of developing dementia.  Exercise also boosts mood, increases energy levels, improves balance and reduces stress.

It’s never too late to get active.
Although starting and maintaining a regular exercise program in your teens is ideal, studies have shown that beginning exercise in midlife still greatly reduces your risk. In fact, even those who are already experiencing some cognitive problems still benefit from physical exercise and may be able to improve their cognitive function.

How do I get started?
Exercise is as easy as taking brisk walks, gardening, and dancing, all of which are great ways to reduce your dementia risk and improve your health. Make sure to choose something you enjoy doing, so you’ll stick with it! Being active does not mean you have to buy an expensive gym membership, start running marathons, or invest in pricey equipment; you just want to aim for about 30 minutes of moderate physical activity at least 5 days a week. If you are new to exercise or have physical limitations, start small, incorporating just a few minutes of extra activity into your day, and build up your strength slowly. Be sure to talk to your health care provider before starting any new exercise program.

The Michigan Alzheimer’s Disease Center (MADC) offers wellness programs that often incorporate gentle movement and physical exercise.  Visit our website to learn more.

For more information on the benefits of exercise and other brain health strategies, visit:
The Alzheimer’s Association
NIH Senior Health



MADC logoThe Michigan Alzheimer’s Disease Center (MADC) was established at the University of Michigan Health System, through affiliation with the Department of Neurology and aims to conduct and promote research on Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders; ensure state-of-the-art care for individuals experiencing cognitive impairment or dementia; and enhance the public’s and health professionals’ understanding of dementia through education and outreach efforts. The infrastructure of the Center stems from a 20 year history as an NIH-funded Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.


new_logos_180x1806For more than 160 years, the University of Michigan Health System has been a national leader in advanced patient care, innovative research to improve human health and comprehensive education of physicians and medical scientists. The three U-M hospitals have been recognized numerous times for excellence in patient care, including a #1 ranking in Michigan and national rankings in many specialty areas by U.S. News & World Report.