While we enjoy the spectacle of the Olympic Games, we should remember that if we engage in many of the featured sports we can help ward off dementia.
Many of us are enjoying the spectacle of world-class athletes competing at the top of their game at the London Summer Olympics. But did you know that engaging in many of the sports featured at the Summer Games can offer us potential protection from dementia and mild cognitive impairment?
Get your heart pumping
Now we’re not suggesting that everyone should begin an Olympic training regimen in ping pong or badminton. But we are suggesting that any activity that gets the heart pumping for a prolonged period can actually help our brains.
Large study proves cognitive benefits
In September of 2011, researchers at Mayo Clinic published a report of their retrospective study of scientific literature on the subject of exercise and cognition. They looked at animal studies as well as observational (human) studies in over 1,600 papers.
They used, as their measure of exercise, enough aerobic physical activity to raise the heart rate and increase the body’s need for oxygen. This included anything from walking and gym workouts to activities at home such as shovelling snow or raking leaves.
Their conclusion was that “you can make a very compelling argument for exercise as a disease-modifying strategy to prevent dementia and mild cognitive impairment, and for favorably modifying these processes once they have developed.”
- Midlife exercise was related to significant reductions in risk of dementia and mild cognitive impairment (MCI).
- Those who had dementia or MCI improved brain function after six to 12 months of exercise as did healthy adults.
- In studies of seniors, aerobic exercise resulted in significantly larger hippocampal volumes (which better accommodates consolidation of information from short-term memory to long-term memory) and better spatial memory and smaller losses of age-related gray matter.
- After six to 12 months of exercise fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) showed improvement in brain cognitive networks.
- Animal studies showed exercise increases neuroplasticity, improving learning.
- Exercise may also increase brain neurotrophic factors (which help grow and repair brain cells) and reduce cognitive decline by cutting cerebrovascular risk which leads to dementia.
Pick up a racket—and play!
Now that you’ve been inspired by all the Olympic action, and now that you know just how healthy a little action might be for your own grey matter, you might want to consider picking up a racket—or a paddle, or a ball—yourself!
Here are a few of the many Olympic events that offer plenty of opportunity for recreational athletes to get their heart pumping.
- and even ping pong!