How do these types of exercise optimize brain health and aid in the prevention of Alzheimer’s dementia?

Hamid R. Sagha, M.D. | June 16, 2020


The benefits of regular physical exercise

In our last article, I talked about the importance of regular physical exercise.  I explained its critical role in overall health and the prevention of Alzheimer’s dementia. I highlighted how it supports brain health in the following ways.

  1. Exercise done correctly can decrease chronic inflammation because it strengthens your body’s immune response. A robust immune system is better able to defeat whatever causes chronic inflammation (including neuroinflammation) in the first place.
  2. Exercise supports the production of a protein in your brain described as a brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). We know that BDNF aids in the recovery, repair, and regeneration of neurons in the brain.
  3. Exercise also supports the increased production of klotho, another essential protein for the brain. According to Dena Dubal, klotho “acts to make tighter, better connections at the synapse,” which helps to optimize many functions of the brain.

What types of physical exercise are most beneficial for the brain?

Don’t forget to see your doctor before you begin a regular exercise program. He/she can do a complete review of your health and your risks before clearing you for physical activity and movement.


Aerobic exercise includes walking, swimming, cycling, or any other form of exercise that increases your need for oxygen. Remember, you need to start with low intensity and progress slowly until so you gradually reach a healthy level of physical training.

For aerobic exercise, the goal should be 30 minutes of brisk walking, five days a week. Start with five minutes a day and keep adding time as you can. Swimming, stair climbing, and dancing are alternative forms of aerobic exercise.

In addition to helping the heart deliver healthy nutrients to your brain, many in the medical science field feel that aerobic exercise also improves neuronal plasticity.

Neuronal plasticity refers to the ability of neurons to adapt, increase the release of BDNF, and stabilize choline in the brain, which may prevent further cognitive decline. For all these reasons, aerobic exercise is one of the best lifestyle choices you can make for your cognitive health.

High-Intensity Interval Training

High-intensity interval training increases the BDNF benefit even more. With interval training, you move alternately between fast (high-intensity) and slow (low-intensity) activity.

You are at the top end of your power only for short periods—15, 30, 45, or 60 seconds—before returning to recovery with low or moderate intensity. A research team at Mayo Clinic found that high-intensity interval training slows aging at the cellular level.

Strength training

Strength and resistance training enhance cognitive performance and brain function, especially problem-solving. This kind of exercise improves muscle strength by gradually increasing resistance to movement through weights.

In addition to being good for your brain, strength training helps you manage your body weight, boost your metabolism, and increase bone density. After checking with your doctor, choose a free weight that causes you to tire after lifting it 12 to 15 times. Increase your repetitions from there, but remember to take at least a day off between sessions.

Flexibility and Balance

Flexibility and balance exercises will help prevent falls, and this is enormously important for the brain. We’ve discovered that balance exercises require so many interconnected and multisensory thoughts, that it gives your brain a “cognitive workout.” To balance, you use sight, your inner ear, joint receptors, and muscles, and all instructions go through the brain.

You can find simple balance exercises online. Remember, it’s crucial to have a “spotter” nearby to help with balance if you need it.

How to sustain your regular physical exercise program

A more detailed look at the role of regular physical exercise in optimal brain health and the prevention of Alzheimer’s dementia is available in my book, Dementia Action Plan: Give Your Brain a Fighting Chance.  Here, I provide nine practical tips for sustaining your exercise program.

There is one aspect of sustaining your exercise program that I want to mention here.  I’m convinced that the best exercise plan is the one you enjoy enough to keep doing. Therefore, you may find that going outside, especially with a friend or loved one works even better for you.

There’s always something to enjoy outside, whether it’s cold, warm, windy, cloudy, or sunny. The “outdoor experience” adds to your physical exercise by stimulating and saturating all your senses. Believe me; you’ll find it incredibly refreshing!