Our bodies were made for movement, yet many of us get far too little physical activity.
That’s unfortunate, because staying active as you age is one of the best things you can do to avoid dementia. It also helps reduce blood pressure, boost lung function, lower blood sugar and shed excess body fat. In fact, physical activity can help prevent over 35 different chronic health conditions.
But adding more physical activity to your life doesn’t have to be as difficult as you might think. And it doesn’t require an hour at the gym every day to get results.
For example, a running study of people born in the 1970’s found that swapping as little as six to nine minutes of inactivity with moderate to vigorous physical activity every day was associated with higher cognitive scores.
Another study, from the Journal of Physiology, found that just six minutes of high-intensity cycling increases circulating brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) by four to five times. This is a special protein that encourages the growth of new neurons, improves their function and enhances synaptic activity. So it’s great for learning and memory.
What Can You do In Less than 10 Minutes?
I’ve recently started with a wonderful nine-minute routine using dynamic movement. It’s a type of activity that mimics real life movements; the activities that your body needs to perform all day long.
I might start off with some yoga poses to stretch and contract my muscles. Then I’ll do some legwork while lying on my back, and maybe lift a ball while doing sit/stand maneuvers for 30 seconds. I might follow up with some slow wall push-ups for another 30 seconds or so, or use my 15-pound weights to work my arms, back and shoulders.
It might only take nine minutes, but it’s a real workout that tires you out and makes you sweaty. I’m loving it!
And the benefits go well beyond the brain.
Even if you’re only engaged in moderate to high intensity physical activity for less than 10 minutes each day, you’re still getting your metabolic activity back up and running. You’re getting your heart pumping, building strong bone and muscle, strengthening your lungs and helping the body rid itself of toxins.
It’s amazing how easy it is and how little time it takes.
Every Step You Take Counts
I also like to go for a walk every day. This is probably one of the most underrated forms of physical activity I can think of. Most people don’t realize it can be just as important as other, more taxing forms of activity. This is especially true when it comes to your risk of dementia.
In a very interesting study, researchers used accelerometers to track the number of steps that 78,500 people took each day, along with their walking speed.
Seven years later, the results were simply amazing. It turned out that the speed at which a person walks may be even more important than the actual number of steps taken.
Overall, the people who walked about 9,800 steps each day at mixed speeds were 51% less likely to develop dementia, and those who walked as little as 3,800 steps a day were about 25% less likely.
But when the team zeroed in on actual walking speed, they discovered that people who walked at a rate of 40 steps or more per minute were able to cut their risk of dementia by 57% in only 6,315 steps per day. And those who walked at a brisker rate of 112 steps per minute for a half hour each day had the most impressive results. This was the optimal rate to reduce the risk of dementia by 62%. So when I’m ready get going , I’ll put my air pods in and walk to The Eurhythmics’ Annie Lennox singing, “Sweet Dreams” for it’s beat speed of @ 120 steps/minute… so walking ½ hour gives me 3600 steps right then on top of my other daily steps.
Walking speed varies per person, and there are any number of reasons – including various health conditions – that may keep you from increasing your speed. If that’s the case, just remember that even if you can’t walk fast, anything over 3,800 steps a day – regardless of walking speed – will cut your risk of dementia.
Booth FW, Roberts CK, Laye MJ. Lack of exercise is a major cause of chronic diseases. Compr Physiol. 2012 Apr;2(2):1143-211.
Mitchell JJ, Blodgett JM, Chastin SF, Jefferis BJ, Wannamethee SG, Hamer M. Exploring the associations of daily movement behaviours and mid-life cognition: a compositional analysis of the 1970 British Cohort Study. J Epidemiol Community Health. 2023 Mar;77(3):189-195.
Gibbons TD, Cotter JD, Ainslie PN, Abraham WC, Mockett BG, Campbell HA, Jones EMW, Jenkins EJ, Thomas KN. Fasting for 20 h does not affect exercise-induced increases in circulating BDNF in humans. J Physiol. 2023 Jan. EPub ahead of Print.
Six minutes of high-intensity exercise could delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. The Physiological Society. 2023 Jan. News Release. Del Pozo Cruz B, Ahmadi M, Naismith SL, Stamatakis E. Association of Daily Step Count and Intensity With Incident Dementia in 78 430 Adults Living in the UK. JAMA Neurol. 2022 Oct 1;79(10):1059-1063.