Dear Donna:

My mother recently passed away after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. It was such a tough period for her and everyone who loved her. She lived with my husband and me for 3 years before she moved to one of the wonderful Heritage dementia care communities. During her illness, I often wondered if there is anything I can do to prevent getting this disease. It was so difficult to watch her decline.

I’ve read articles that say Alzheimer’s might actually be a form of diabetes, but that the research is still inconclusive. Other information I’ve read says smoking might contribute to the disease. Then there are those that say exercise—both mental and physical—might be the key. My diet is pretty healthy and I’ve never been a smoker, but I’d like to know more about exercise.

Do you know of any credible research that shows a link between Alzheimer’s prevention and exercise?


Chris in Saginaw, MI

Lifestyle Factors and Alzheimer’s Prevention

Dear Chris:

First, my condolences on the loss of your mother. Alzheimer’s is a tough disease that impacts the entire family. After witnessing what your mother went through, it’s understandable that you would be concerned about your own risk.

Exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. We commonly associate it with helping to prevent or manage medical conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and even depression. But there is research that seems to indicate physical activity might play a role in preventing or delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

It’s important to remember, however, that brain health is a complicated topic. While much of the science related to Alzheimer’s is not definitive, there is evidence that links cognitive health with an individual’s overall wellness. According to Harvard Medical School, practicing a healthy lifestyle might be one way to protect yourself. Researchers from the Alzheimer’s Research Foundation agree.

Since you mentioned exercise specifically, I’m sharing a few tips researchers think might impact brain health. If you haven’t been engaging in physical activity lately, it’s always a good idea to talk with your primary care physician before getting started.

  • Combine cardio with strength training: Create an exercise regimen that incorporates both moderate aerobic activity with strength training. This combination not only helps protect brain health, but also reduces your risk for falls and increases flexibility and endurance. (As the years go by, we are all at higher risk of falling unless we stay active.)
  • Aim for 150 minutes of exercise each week: Set a goal to engage in physical activities at least 150 minutes each week. Many find exercising 30 minutes 5 days a week a realistic schedule. And it doesn’t need to be 30 continuous minutes. You can break it up if you need to. You might want to jump-start the day with 15 minutes of aerobic activity in the morning, and then wind down with 15 minutes of yoga or Pilates towards the evening.
  • Track your progress every day: Finally, hold yourself accountable. At the end of each day, document what type of physical activity you engaged in and for how long. It might help to find a workout buddy or two to help you stay motivated.

This article has more information about how to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s by up to 50% with regular exercise.

I hope this information is useful, Chris!

Kind regards,