—by Jeff Jurmain, MA
There is now good evidence to show that exercise and vitamin D could shield the body from dementia.
Three new, long-term studies now firmly support the idea that there is a link between physical activity and certain dietary elements (vitamin D and tea) and a reduced risk of dementia. All three were presented recently at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease 2010.
On the exercise front, Boston-based researchers made the link as part of the long-term, groundbreaking “Framingham Study” that has yielded great medical insight for more than 40 years. In it, researchers estimated the levels of 24-hour physical activity of more than 1,200 older adults, and then followed them to see the level of dementia. Over the next 20 years, 242 people developed dementia, with the majority developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Those who performed moderate to high levels of physical activity had about a 40% lower risk of dementia. In contrast, those who reported the lowest levels of exercise were 45% more likely to develop dementia. This is big, as it’s the first study to track such developments over a long period of time. It’s clear that staying at least moderately active will lower dementia risk, even in older adults.
On the vitamin D front, new studies show that a deficiency in this important nutrient is linked with cognitive impairment and dementia. In one study, researchers looked at 3,325 adults over the age of 65, measuring vitamin D levels and how participants did on tests of memory, orientation in time and space, and ability to maintain attention.
The study found that the odds of cognitive impairment were about 42% higher in people who were deficient in vitamin D. They were nearly 400% higher in those severely deficient in vitamin D. The majority of older U.S. adults are believed to have insufficient vitamin D levels. This is because skin becomes less efficient at producing vitamin D with age and sunlight exposure is more limited.
In this case, vitamin D supplements have proven to be a safe, inexpensive and effective way to treat deficiency. Paying attention to vitamin D could help shield the mind from the ravages of dementia, as well as protect the body from a long list of other conditions.
Finally, a third link was found with tea. Researchers found that people who consumed tea at a variety of levels had significantly less cognitive decline (17% to 37%) than non-tea drinkers. The highest level of protection — 37% — was seen in people who drank one to four cups a week.
More food for thought in the ongoing battle against dementia.