Dementia: Three simple exercises that may 'sharpen memory' and cut Alzheimer's risk by almost 50%

Composite image of man stretching next to a woman gardening

Simple exercises can slash your risk of dementia by 45 percent, research suggests

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Adam Chapman

By Adam Chapman

Published: 14/02/2024

- 16:06

Updated: 15/02/2024

- 07:59

You do not have to run marathons to keep your brain fighting fit, pharmacist Mark Burdon tells GB News

Exercise improves virtually everything we care about - it reduces the risk of major illnesses and keeps us mentally resilient, among other things.

And although getting older is the biggest risk factor for dementia, exercise can help here too - and you don't have to do much of it to reap the benefits.

In an exclusive interview with GB News, pharmacist Mark Burdon reveals three simple exercises that can keep the brain sharp into old age.


According to Mr Burdon, going for a dip is a great place to start. He cites research that suggests the low-impact exercise can help to delay dementia by activating the “cold-shock” protein (RBM3), which a 2015 study on mice showed offered protection against the onset of dementia.

What's more, joining a swimming club can also indirectly benefit the brain, notes Mr Burdon, by encouraging you to socialise with others. As he points out, social isolation is a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease.

Women open water swimming

Swimming is a great way to reduce socialisation and it may reduce onset of dementia

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Getting green fingers provides the perfect opportunity to get outside and is suitable for all fitness levels, the pharmacist explains.

And research points to the cognitive benefits. One study suggests that daily gardening may lower the risk of dementia by 36 percent.

It's unclear what might explain this effect but engaging in activities that stimulate the brain reduces the risk of Alzheimer's as much as physical activity, evidence suggests.


As the pharmacist explains, walking can be done as part of a group to ensure regular exercise and socialisation but the benefits don't stop there.

Research suggests the more steps you take, the greater the cognitive benefit.

A study of 78,000 healthy people (ages 40 to 79) found that compared with people who didn't walk much at all, people who walked about 9,800 steps per day (about five miles) were 51 percent less likely to develop dementia. People who walked just 3,800 steps per day (about two miles) were about 25 percent less likely to develop dementia.

The study was observational so cannot provide conclusive proof that walking itself made the difference.

Woman walking and looking down at her phone

Upping your step count can provide greater cognitive benefits, research suggests

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A deeper look at how exercise benefits the brain

Exercise improves blood flow to the brain, which reduces shrinkage of the hippocampus - the region of the brain that functions in memory and cognitive function, explained the pharmacist.

Another mechanism is related to irisin, a hormone activated by exercise. Studies have shown reduced levels of irisin in people with Alzheimer’s.

Activating the hormone "sharpens memory, reduces inflammatory factors in the brain and reduces Alzheimer’s symptoms by improving insulin resistance", explains Mr Burdon.

Still not convinced? An analysis of 16 studies suggests that exercise cuts Alzheimer’s risk by 45 percent. Time to dust off those running trainers.

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