In a groundbreaking study led by the University of Sunshine Coast research team, Dr Chris Askew, has begun looking into the correlation between exercise and dementia.
Dr Chris Askew told ABC reporter, Nance Haxton, that the study was extending beyond the link between exercise and dementia and transitioning to how, even thinking about exercise, could alter brain function.
It is well known that regular exercise can lower the risk of developing dementia and maintaining fitness can prevent cognitive impairment.
But what about people who are physically limited? Could there be a way to protect against the onset of dementia for those who are unable to commit to such an active lifestyle?
“We know that one of the benefits of exercise, whether it’s the benefits for our heart or the benefits for our body in general is that it leads to increases in blood flow; the increases in blood flow through our arteries to our muscles”, according to Dr Askew.
“Those increases in blood flow is what’s responsible for the growth of new vessels and the improvement in vascular function. And we think the same is true for the vessels in our brain.
And the interesting thing when we exercise is that we can see increases in blood flow even when we’re thinking about exercise. So we’re trying to separate the physical stimuli for that increase in blood flow from the mental stimuli from the increases in brain blood flow.”
Patients were asked to participate in two different types of exercise: a simple sit-to-stand movement and a cycling test. The latter group took part in a virtual reality experiment whereby they sat on a stationary bike and watched as a simulated form cycled on the screen in front of them.
The experiment studied brain activity when exercise was just a thought as opposed to an action.
Dr Askew said that a positive increase in blood flow, as a result of thinking about exercise, could be a promising way to improve the quality of life of patients who are otherwise incapacitated.
“Certainly if we see positive increases in blood flow, even when someone is thinking about exercise, there’s potential for patients who have had a severe stroke, for example, or patients who are incapacitated during an acute hospital stay, for example, that this form of simulated exercise might be a positive way to increase their blood flow and therefore provide and promote improvements in their brain vascular function. And that could have positive effects in the cognitive function and brain function.”
Related: Promising research shows the risk of neurodegenerative diseases may be lowered through making lifestyle changes.
Related: Watching a loved one with dementia ‘disappear’ is a harrowing experience for all. But there are means to make coping easier.