Dementia and its risk factors: each step counts!

Up to 5 million deaths a year could be averted if the global population was more active. Physical activity is very important for human health and sedentary behaviour can cause a lot of healthy problems. Everyone, of all ages and abilities, should be physically active and every type of movement counts. The lack of physical activity is even one of the risk factors for dementia.

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Dementia is a heterogeneous syndrome characterised by a progressive deterioration of cognition and the ability to perform activities of daily living. Dementia also has a huge emotional, economic, and psychological impact on families and society. The last report of dementia prevention, intervention, and care (published at the end of 2020) highlighted the 12 major risk factors that are responsible for ~40% of dementia cases: diabetes, hypertension, head injury, smoking, air pollution, midlife obesity, depression, alcohol consumption, hearing impairment, no social contact, low education levels and lack of exercise.

Physical activity is widely acknowledged as associated with several health benefits and reduces the risk of adverse health outcomes throughout the life cycle. As a result, the World Health Organisation has highlighted that ‘each step counts’, encouraging people to increase their physical activity levels. Unfortunately, according to the latest PA report, 27,5% of the worldwide population is physically inactive, and these numbers are likely higher considering how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the people worldwide.

Regarding the association between physical activity and dementia risk, a recent study identified a dose-response relationship between device-measured physical activity and risk of incident dementia, independent of sociodemographic, lifestyle and health-related confounding factors; in other words, higher physical activity levels were associated with a lower risk of dementia incidence. Moreover, compared to individuals physically inactive, performing physical activity could decrease the onset of dementia up to 12 years.

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