Diabetes Forecast

Exercise May Reduce Dementia Risk

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What to Know

Dementia, which affects approximately 47.5 million people around the world, occurs most often in people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. It progressively robs them of their ability to think and reason, to remember, and to function. Experts don’t fully understand what causes it, but they do know that both genetics and lifestyle factors like regular exercise play a role. In this study, researchers investigated whether exercise can protect against dementia in people whose genes put them at higher risk of dementia and those with no genetic predisposition.

The Study

Canadian researchers recruited 1,646 adults from both rural and urban areas. Ten percent had diabetes. Their average age was 76. In interviews, about 38 percent of them told the researchers that they walked or participated in other exercise on a regular basis. At the beginning of the study, none of the participants had dementia. However, blood tests revealed that nearly 23 percent of them had a gene—called APOE e4—that elevated their risk of Alzheimer’s disease. After an average of five years, each participant underwent an evaluation to determine which of them had developed dementia.

The Results

Participants without the Alzheimer’s gene who did not exercise were just as likely to be diagnosed with dementia as those who had a heightened genetic risk of the disease. In fact, they were nearly twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s compared to the participants who did not have the gene but did exercise.. And it didn’t take a strenuous workout to get that benefit. Most of the exercisers in the study walked three times a week. The study participants who did carry the APOE e4 gene did not fare as well. Their dementia risk remained the same regardless of their exercise habits.


Regular exercise may reduce your likelihood of developing dementia. And that exercise can be something as simple as taking a walk a few times each week. More research is needed to confirm this study’s findings, however. The current study could only show a link between regular exercise and a lower rate of dementia; it could not demonstrate that exercise caused that drop.

Physical Exercise Moderates the Relationship of Apolipoprotein E (APOE) Genotype and Dementia Risk: A Population-Based Study.” Barbara Fenesi, Hanna Fang, Ana Kovacevic, Mark Oremus, Parminder Raina, and Jennifer J. Heisz. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, January 2017; 56 (1): 297–303

The information on this screen does not take the place of care from your doctor or other health care provider. If you have general questions about diabetes or diabetes-related research, e-mail askada@diabetes.org or call 1-800-DIABETES (800-342-2382).



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