“We understand that living with dementia poses many challenges to individuals and their families and the idea of improving their physical fitness may seem like an unachievable target,” said lead researcher Alice Hollamby, of University College London.
“However, we encourage increased physical fitness in any way – even what may seem like minor steps. “Just helping out around the house or in the garden, taking a short walk or swim, or lifting things from a seated position could play a big part in slowing the progression.”
Study co-author Dr Eddy J Davelaar, from Birkbeck, University of London, said: “We all know we should embrace a healthy lifestyle to strengthen our physical and mental wellbeing.
“However, this is not to say that when one develops dementia, all hope is lost.”
Doing exercise helps stimulate brain circulation, combating alzheimer’s
“This means it is never too late to start.”
Last night research bodies into dementia welcomed the new study, but stressed more research was still needed into the link between physical and mental fitness.
Dr Tim Shakespeare, of the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “Regular physical activity is considered a good way to reduce your risk of dementia.
“But it’s still unclear whether it can help people who already have the condition to improve their thinking skills.”
Alzheimers Research UK explain ‘what is dementia?’
Alzheimer’s Research UK also advocated staying physically fit to reduce the chance of developing dementia.
A spokesman explained: “Risk factors for cardiovascular disease – like heart disease and stroke – are also risk factors for dementia, so what is good for your heart is good for your brain.
“Leading a healthy lifestyle and taking regular exercise will help lower your risk of cardiovascular diseases, and it’s likely you could be lowering your risk of dementia too, particularly vascular dementia.”
Dr Karen Harrison-Dening, of Dementia UK, said: “Keeping active is so important for people with dementia and the people who look after them.”
Cardiovascular exercise also aids prevention of heart disease
In the new study, pensioners were tested on memory and thinking skills.
The study’s senior author, Dr Dorina Cadar, from UCL, said: “Dementia is such a cruel disease which causes confusion and disorientation to the sufferer and enormous distress to their families and loved ones.
“Our study has helped to identify risk factors that could modify the rate of cognitive deterioration and disease progression.
The findings, published in the journal Frontiers In Public Health, suggest that, based on studies in animals, aerobic exercise increases blood supply and the growth of brain cells.
The paper follows evidence that older adults with dementia are better able to count backwards from 50 or name the months of the year in reverse while walking for 10 minutes.
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s, a major form of dementia, which causes nerve cell death and tissue loss.