Staying in shape can be just as beneficial for the brain as the body, a large-scale study released suggests. Physical ailments can greatly increase the risk for dementia in older adults, according to the research led by Kenneth Rockwood of Dalhousie University. But exercise and a healthy lifestyle can do much to counter those effects, he said in a recent interview. Many specific risk factors, such as age, family history, diabetes and heart disease, have been linked to dementia. But Rockwood, who has studied Alzheimer’s disease for 20 years, has turned his attention to how the brain responds to any type of ailment, even relatively minor things such as a broken leg. Rockwood started testing his theories more than 10 years ago. The research project involved 7,239 Canadians over 65 who didn’t have dementia. After five years and again after 10 years, they were re-uated for Alzheimer’s disease and all types of dementia. Participants were asked questions about 19 health problems not previously reported to predict dementia. These included arthritis, trouble hearing or seeing, denture fit, chest or skin problems, stomach or bladder troubles, sinus issues, broken bones and feet or ankle conditions. But as the brain worked to repair each condition, a person’s risk for dementia increased by 3.2 per cent, Rockwood found. He also found the effect was cumulative. For example, for people who had 12 health problems of any kind, the risk jumped to about 40 per cent. As a comparison, people over 50 with no health problems have an 18 per cent chance of developing dementia.

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