Posted on Mar 29, 2022, 2 p.m.
Among older people, dementia is one of the major causes of disability and dependency. Approximately 50 million people worldwide, with 5.5 million in America and over 850,000 in the UK alone, currently have dementia according to The Alzheimer’s Society, and there are nearly 10 million new cases diagnosed every year. The World Health Organization has listed dementia as a public health priority. Estimates predict that worldwide the number of people with dementia may triple to over 150 million within the oncoming three decades.
Physical activity is a potential preventive factor for dementia and has been shown to have an inverse association with dementia incidence in several epidemiological studies. However, these studies were conducted with short-term follow-up periods. Exercise has also been established to help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke which are both potential causes of vascular dementia.
This study, published in the journal JAMA Network Open, set out to investigate whether daily total physical activity and MVPA in daily total time and in leisure-time are associated with the subsequent risk of dementia, and whether the associations may be subject to reverse causation bias, researchers from the Center for Public Health Sciences in Tokyo analyzed data from 43,896 seniors with disabling dementia, as certified under Japan’s national long-term care insurance (LTCI) system within a large prospective cohort study with long-term follow-up.
The average age of the participants was 61, who lived in various areas in Japan, who were asked to detail their average level of physical activity which were given a score based on the energy expended to do each task; such as sitting down scoring 1.3 and playing golf scored 3. Scores from the participants were compared to dementia diagnoses between 2006-2016. During this period 5,010 participants were diagnosed with dementia, and the results showed no clear links between moderate to vigorous exercise and a reduction in the risk of dementia.
Further analysis showed that men who participated in a lot of leisure time activities requiring physical activity, like golf and tennis, were at less risk for dementia. Men who were in the top 25% of leisure time exercise performed were 37% less likely to have dementia 3 years after being surveyed, and this reduction remained after adjusting for factors including alcohol intake, BMI, and smoking status. 9 years later the more active men were shown to be 28% less likely compared to the least active.
“Leisure activities that include cognitive activity have a protective association against cognitive decline and dementia,” the authors wrote. “In addition, the social activity that accompanies leisure-time physical activities, such as participation in golf competitions and enrollment in tennis circles, also has a protective association against cognitive decline and dementia.”
However, it was noted that a similar protective effect was not observed for female participants in this study. Dr. Norie Sawda theorized that this may be due to the women already getting similar benefits from their everyday activities such as the cognitive activity required to co-ordinate housework and other various activities along with the women being more likely to have a larger social network than the men.
The Macmillan Cancer Support charity previously estimated that a single round of golf was the equivalent to 240 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity, involving players walking between 4-8 miles on average for a full round of golf. Tennis matches do not have a specific game time duration, it could be a best of 3 sets, 5, you may just want to work on your backhand, or it could just be a round of seeing how long players can rally back and forth without the ball hitting the ground for extra fun. Tennis can last as little as a half-hour to five hours or longer, it really varies.
In the UK, the NHS recommends that adults should try to be active daily with at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity weekly such as walking or cycling, including strength training exercises on 2 or more days a week working all the major muscles. Or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity like running or tennis and strength training exercises 2 or more days a week working all the major muscles. Or a mix of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity including strength training exercises on 2 or more days a week working all the major muscles. Aiming for 10 minutes of moderate exercise daily like a brisk walk is a good start.
In America, the CDC recommends that each week adults need 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity and 2 days of muscle-strengthening activity working all major muscle groups. Or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity with 2 or more days of muscle-strengthening activities working all major muscle groups weekly. Or an equivalent mix of moderate and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity on 2 or more days a week with muscle strengthening exercises on 2 or more days working all major muscle groups weekly. This does not have to be done all at once, you can spread the activity during the week. The CDC also recommends that adults should move more and sit less throughout the day, as adults who move more gain health benefits.
The takeaway is that playing leisure sports such as golf and tennis during middle age is more than just fun, it also is a great way to keep both your mind and body healthy while carrying the potential benefit of a significantly lower risk of developing dementia for men. According to this study, these physical activities also have a similar effect as daily household chores like cleaning, gardening, shopping, laundry, and cooking for women.
As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before making any changes to your wellness routine.
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