News & Insights 13 January 2022

Brain tissue, physical activity and the fight against dementia

Traditional advice on how to improve or maintain our mental and physical health includes recommendations for regular physical activity. Government guidelines suggest, for substantial health benefits, adults should accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity (such as brisk walking or cycling) or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity (such as running).

However, what is often missed is the message that these short intervals of physical activity can be any activity that gets the body moving. The objective is to create easy, convenient, and enjoyable opportunities to get moving and engage in any sort of physical activity to benefit your health. Every move you make matters!

As we age, engaging in physical activity becomes more and more important. Studies show that people who are physically active are less likely to experience a decline in their mental function and have a lowered risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease as physical activity is one of the known modifiable risk factors for dementia.

This is supported by a recent study conducted by UC San Francisco, which found that when older adults stay active, their brains produce more of a class of proteins that enhances the connections between neurons to maintain healthy cognition. Originally, the beneficial effects of physical activity on cognition have been shown in mice but have been much harder to demonstrate in people. However, through this research, it has been shown that synaptic protein regulation is related to physical activity and may drive these beneficial cognitive outcomes.

Casaletto, a neuropsychologist of the Will Institute for Neuroscience, commented “Maintaining the integrity (through physical activity) of these connections between neurons may be vital to fending off dementia, since the synapse is really the site where cognition happens”, Casaletto added that “Physical activity, a readily available tool, may help boost this synaptic functioning.”

In Casaletto’s previous work, she showed that older adults who take part in higher levels of physical activity have higher levels of proteins. These higher protein levels facilitate the exchange of information between neurons. Thus, individuals who had more of these proteins in their brains were better able to maintain their cognition late in life.

Using these two studies in conjunction, we can see the importance of physical activity for cognitive health and to help protect against dementia. Physical activity, therefore, is vital for healthy aging, positively benefiting our physical health as well as our cognitive wellbeing. Staying physically active as we age substantially drops our risk of developing dementia during our lifetimes, and it doesn’t require prolonged exercise. Walking or moving about, rather than prolonged sitting, may be all it takes to help protect our brains!

At KiActiv®, we recognise that physical activity is important for maintaining brain health and we aim to empower uses to take control of their activity, in a personalised and accessible way. For people managing long-term conditions, or simply looking to age well and maintain good health, helping them to put the power back in their hands enables a proactive approach to wellbeing. Emphasising that physical activity is more than just exercise and sport and that every move matters, is vital to allow all of us to make simple yet effective changes that result in a variety of health benefits.

The KiActiv® Team