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Dementia, where does exercise fit in?

Dementia is a common but devastating class of neurological conditions that are characterised by a loss of cognitive function. Dementia is normally found in older people but can present earlier in life for some. Dementia is not a specific disease but rather an umbrella term. Dementia affects thinking, behaviour and the ability to perform everyday tasks. It is important to note that Dementia is not a normal part of ageing.

The most common types of dementia are Alzheimer’s disease, Vascular dementia, Parkinson’s disease, Dementia with Lewy bodies, Fronto Temporal Lobar Degeneration (FTLD), Huntington’s disease, Alcohol related dementia (Korsakoff’s syndrome) and Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease.

Early signs of dementia may include:

  • Progressive and frequent memory loss
  • Confusion
  • Personality change
  • Apathy and withdrawal
  • Loss of ability to perform everyday tasks.

Those who have experienced dementia in their family know how devastating it can be the sufferer, the family, and friends of those suffering. Dementia is actually the 2nd most prominent cause of death in Australia, only second to Coronary Heart Disease. There are no cures for dementia, and it is progressive – meaning that the symptoms will worsen to the point the sufferer requires constant care until death.

So, what can be done?

Although there is no current cure or truly effective management for dementia research has shown that the lifestyle habits of people in their youth and adulthood have huge consequences for their cognitive function as they age.

Studies have found a link between regular and sustained aerobic exercise and a decreased incidence of cognitive disease. This is possibly due to increased blood flow to the brain which allows for new cells, damage correction, and a healthier brain.

As a society we are less active than ever, and for many of us our least active years are between the ages of 20-40 as we peak in our careers. These years are extremely influential in terms of how healthy we will be in our retirement.

The classic physical activity guidelines of 30 mins a day of aerobic exercise, and 2-3 days of 30-60 mins of resistance training a week could be the difference to preserve your brain, your heart, your bones, your muscles, and your mental health.

So next time you choose the afternoon game shows over a sunset walk – have a really hard think about what kind of investment you are making for your future.

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