How exercise protects the brain

A new study looks at the link between activity levels and risk of dementia.

Woman in Workout Gear Holding Ball

ACP/Terence Chin/

Your brain is your most valuable asset. No matter how well your body functions, if your cognitive capabilities take a hit, it’s more devastating than losing a limb. Your brain is where you live. It’s what makes you you. Exercise protects (and even strengthens) that.

Last year I did an investigative piece on how exercise positively affects the brain. It makes you better at long-term planning, sticking to said plan, and being able to focus amidst distraction. What’s more, it significantly protects against Alzheimer’s and development of brain lesions (silent strokes). It’s even been shown to energize the mitochondria in brain cells – the stuff that fuels cellular activity. Exercise is also great for stress reduction as well.

When it comes to your brain, exercise = good.

And now there’s new research to prove this. A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that all forms of dementia were reduced in those with higher activity levels. Alzheimer’s is but one form of dementia, but this study, looking at almost 20,000 people, found that for all forms of dementia, those in the fittest 20 percent had 36 percent less risk of dementia than those in the least fit 20 percent.

And it doesn’t take a lot. A brisk 45 minute walk, three times a week, will have a profound positive effect. After that, the law of diminishing returns kicks in. Yes, you can get a greater effect from more, and more intense, exercise, but the difference between zero and moderate exercise is significantly greater than the difference between moderate and heavy exercise.

So do something (anything) physical, and protect your most valuable asset.

Get your FREE metabolism “myth busting” report from James.

Get Chatelaine in your inbox!

Our very best stories, recipes, style and shopping tips, horoscopes and special offers. Delivered a couple of times a week.