Preventing Dementia: Mental and Physical Activity

(RxWiki News) An agile mind and an active body with regular exercise can boost memory and reduce memory loss.

Having an active mind and body can improve your memory and delay or prevent dementia. The plans below have not been proven by random control trials to prevent or delay dementia. But they are solid ways to boost memory and health.

Mental activity

Stimulating the mind may be a key factor in protecting memory and other cognitive skills.

  • A study1 found that those who often engaged in mental activities were less likely to have dementia five or more years later. Mental activities include:
    • Reading
    • Playing board games
    • Playing a musical instrument
    • Dancing
  • Dancing combines physical and mental activity. One has to remember dance steps and coordinate them with a partner’s steps. Dancing was associated with a 76% reduction in dementia.
  • A study2 found that mentally active older people were 2.6 times less likely to get dementia than those who did not engage in such activities.
  • Recent research3 confirmed the value of mental activities.
    • Those who read, do crafts, or attend social events were less likely to get mild cognitive impairment.
    • People who watched fewer than six hours of television a day were less likely to suffer memory loss than those who watched more.

Cognitive training also appears to help keep or improve memory and other cognitive skills. 

Here are examples of cognitive training:

  • Variety of exercises to help improve attention span
  • Thinking before acting
  • Visual and auditory processing
  • Listening
  • Reading

A study4 found that people age 65 or older who did 10 sessions of cognitive training had improved mental functioning up to five years later.

  • Participants were cognitively normal older people. They were either assigned to a group that received mental training or were assigned to a control group that received no training.
  • About 60% of the participants also got booster training classes at 11 and 35 months.
  • After five years, the men and women who had the cognitive training still performed better than those in the control group.
  • The most benefits were seen for those who had both the training and the booster sessions.

Physical activity

Memory depends on a good supply of blood to the brain. Regular exercise improves blood flow to the brain.

Accepted guidelines recommend 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week5. Another option is 75 minutes a week of vigorous physical activity. It is important to check with your doctor before beginning a new exercise plan.

Aerobic exercise should be done in bursts of at least 10 minutes. Exercise sessions should be spread throughout the week. If health problems prevent the 150 minutes of exercise, be as active as you are able.

Aerobic activities may also help older people be less likely to have “tip-of-the-tongue” lapses, according to a study6.

  • This frustrating type of speaking glitch occurs when a person knows a word but can’t think of it.
  • The glitches tend to become more frequent with age but are not a sign of cognitive damage.
  • Aerobic activity is linked with better blood flow to the brain, and researchers think this could explain the findings.

If you are at risk of falling, it’s best to find exercises that will help you keep or improve balance. Doing tai chi may help. This involves performing a series of gentle, slow movements accompanied by deep breathing.

In a small study, individuals who practiced tai chi over 15 weeks (three times per week, 50 minutes at a time) were less likely to experience falls. They were also were more likely to have improvements in cognition. This was compared to people that didn’t practice tai chi. Many community centers around the country offer group classes for beginners.

Exercise can help with weight control. This is important because being overweight may increase the risk of dementia.

A study7 found that older people who exercise have far less cognitive decline than those who get little or no exercise.

Study design:

  • Participants had a neuropsychological examination.
  • Information was collected on vascular risk factors and exercise habits.

Key findings:

  • Those who reported no or light physical activity had a greater decline in how quickly they performed simple tasks than those who did moderate to heavy physical activity.
  • Low physical activity was also linked to more decline in memories of personal experiences (episodic memory).

Keep on moving!



  1. Joe Verghese. The New England Journal of Medicine, June, 2003.
  2. Rush Memory and Aging Project
  3. Mayo Clinic Population-Based Study of Aging
  4. Karlene Ball. JAMA, November, 2002.
  5. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
  6. K. Segaert. Scientific Reports, April, 2018.
  7. J. Willey. Neurology, May, 2016.