Older people who don’t engage in any form of exercise are just as likely to develop dementia as those who have a genetic vulnerability for the disorder, according to a new study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
To conduct their research, the study authors collected data on 1,646 Canadians over the age of 65, and looked at which of these individuals developed dementia over a five-year period.
A minority of those involved in the study carried a particular genetic variant known as apolipoprotein E (APOE), which placed them at a higher risk of developing protein plaques on their brains that are strongly associated with cognitive decline. As a consequence, these people were found to be much more likely to develop dementia than those who did not carry APOE.
However, of the non-carriers, those who claimed not to do any physical exercise at all developed dementia almost as frequently as carriers.
In response to this discovery, study co-author Jennifer Heisz explained in a statement that “the important message here is that being inactive may completely negate the protective effects of a healthy set of genes.”
Remaining active in one’s latter years could therefore be a highly effective strategy to fend off cognitive decline. Even light exercise appears to confer significant benefits, as most of the non-carriers who didn’t go on to develop dementia said that they walked three times a week.
Unfortunately, carriers of APOE were just as likely to suffer from the condition regardless of whether or not they exercised, so this strategy seems only to work for those who are not genetically predisposed to dementia.