As the ageing population grows, understanding the risk factors and potential causes of dementia becomes increasingly crucial. One emerging area of research from a recent study published in JAMA suggests that a sedentary lifestyle, characterised by minimal physical activity and prolonged periods of sitting, may significantly increase the risk of dementia. For the present study, researchers gathered data from the UK Biobank, examining information from 49,841 adults ages 60 years or older who were not diagnosed with dementia when they wore an accelerometer. Follow-up began when participants wore an accelerometer from February 2013 to December 2015, lasting until September 2021 in England, July 2021 in Scotland, and February 2018 in Wales. Results from accelerometer readings show the more time older adults exhibited sedentary behaviours for an average of 10 hours per day, the higher the likelihood of all-cause dementia. – Source: Medical News Today.
The Sedentary Lifestyle Epidemic
In recent decades, our modern way of life has become increasingly sedentary. Technological advances have brought us conveniences that often involve extended periods of sitting, such as desk jobs, long commutes, and hours spent in front of screens. Even leisure activities like watching television or using smartphones contribute to sedentary behaviour. This shift towards a more sedentary lifestyle has raised concerns about its potential impact on our health, including its association with dementia.
The Link Between Sedentary Lifestyle and Dementia
Numerous studies have investigated the relationship between a sedentary lifestyle and dementia risk, and the findings consistently suggest a connection. Here are some key research findings:
Increased Risk: A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that individuals who engage in low levels of physical activity, such as sitting for more than six hours a day, have a higher risk of developing dementia compared to those who are more active.
Reduced Brain Volume: Research using neuroimaging techniques has shown that sedentary behaviour is associated with smaller brain volumes, particularly in areas related to memory and cognitive function. Smaller brain volumes are often indicative of neurodegenerative processes, including those seen in dementia.
Vascular Impact: Prolonged sitting and physical inactivity can contribute to vascular risk factors, including hypertension, obesity, and diabetes. These factors, in turn, are known to increase the risk of vascular dementia, one of the common types of dementia.
Inflammatory Processes: Sedentary behaviour can lead to chronic inflammation, which has been linked to various health problems, including cognitive decline. Inflammation in the brain is thought to contribute to the development of dementia.
Impaired Blood Flow: Physical activity helps maintain healthy blood flow, delivering oxygen and nutrients to brain cells. A sedentary lifestyle can lead to reduced blood flow to the brain, which may contribute to cognitive impairment.
Mechanisms Behind the Link
While the precise mechanisms linking a sedentary lifestyle to dementia are still under investigation, several potential pathways have been proposed:
Cerebral Blood Flow: Prolonged sitting can lead to reduced cerebral blood flow, which may impair the brain’s ability to function optimally. Insufficient blood flow can result in neuronal damage and cognitive decline.
Neuroinflammation: Sedentary behaviour is associated with chronic low-grade inflammation throughout the body, including the brain. Neuroinflammation is thought to play a role in the development and progression of dementia.
Blood-Brain Barrier Dysfunction: Physical activity helps maintain the integrity of the blood-brain barrier, a protective barrier that regulates the passage of substances between the bloodstream and the brain. A sedentary lifestyle may contribute to blood-brain barrier dysfunction, allowing harmful substances to enter the brain.
Insulin Resistance: Physical inactivity can lead to insulin resistance, a condition where the body’s cells do not respond effectively to insulin. Insulin resistance has been associated with cognitive impairment and an increased risk of dementia.
Implications and Recommendations
The growing body of evidence linking a sedentary lifestyle to dementia underscores the importance of incorporating regular physical activity into our daily routines. Here are some recommendations:
Stay Active: Engage in regular physical activity, such as brisk walking, swimming, or dancing, for at least 150 minutes per week, as recommended by health authorities.
Break Up Sitting Time: If you have a desk job, try to stand, stretch, and walk around at regular intervals throughout the day. Even short breaks from sitting can be beneficial.
Include Strength Training: Incorporate strength training exercises into your routine to maintain muscle mass and overall health, as these activities have been associated with cognitive benefits.
Mindful Screen Time: Be mindful of screen time and aim to balance it with physical activity. Limit prolonged periods of sitting while watching TV or using electronic devices.
Healthy Lifestyle: Maintain a balanced diet, manage stress, get adequate sleep, and stay socially active. These lifestyle factors can also contribute to brain health and reduce dementia risk.
The relationship between a sedentary lifestyle and dementia is an essential area of research that highlights the impact of our daily choices on cognitive health. While more studies are needed to fully understand the mechanisms involved, the evidence thus far strongly suggests that staying physically active and reducing sedentary behaviour can reduce the risk of dementia. Embracing a more active and health-conscious lifestyle is not only beneficial for physical well-being but also for preserving cognitive function and overall quality of life as we age.
Movement at Livewell
At Livewell Estates, we place importance on actively engaging our residents through a wide range of memory-care activities that encourage them to be more physical. Livewell is very strict about our no restriction of movement policy. We want our residents to feel as if this is their home, and they are free to move around as they please. This, however, does not mean that they are not supervised. Our lovely companions are always available to accompany residents, especially on those afternoon strolls through the garden.