Alzheimer's: Sedentary People Have the Same Risk as Those Who Carry the Genes

A study has shown that sedentary people face a similar risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease to those who carry a genetic risk for the disease. To me, this information is startling. It should provide enough incentive to get those of us who have a thousand excuses for not exercising, to get in the game.

The study’s researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario came to their conclusion after following the health of more than 1,600 Canadians over a period of five years. According to the abstract, physical exercise may be an effective strategy for preventing dementia.

Parminder Raina, Ph.D., a co-author and professor in the department of health evidence and impact at McMaster University says:

“Although age is an important marker for dementia, there is more and more research showing the link between genetic and lifestyle factors. This research shows that exercise can mitigate the risk of dementia for people without the variant of the apolipoprotein genotype.”

Additionally, Jennifer Heisz, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the department of kinesiology at McMaster University and a co-author of the study, states what they saw even more strongly. She says:

"The important message here is that being inactive may completely negate the protective effects of a healthy set of genes.”

Dementia is a global health crisis

According to Alzheimer’s Disease International, there were an estimated 46.8 million people worldwide living with dementia in 2015. This number will nearly double every 20 years, reaching 74.7 million in 2030 and 131.5 million in 2050. There is still no cure for the most types of dementia, and no cure for the number one type which is Alzheimer’s. Yet, as the Canadian study confirms, making positive lifestyle changes is a tool that we have at our disposal.

The conclusion of the scientists who attended the 2014 Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Copenhagen was that one in three cases of Alzheimer’s may be lifestyle related.

Basically, the same conclusion came out of the 2016 Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Toronto. Lifestyle matters and lifestyle is something we can change.

Since childhood, my favorite exercise has been carrying home a stack of books from the library so that I could hide out and read. Thankfully, life has forced me to be fairly active but, other than yoga, I’m still not enthusiastic about intentional exercise.

Considering I’ve written countless articles on how exercise could cut my Alzheimer’s risk, one would think that I’d finally get the message, yet I haven’t yet stuck with a strong aerobic plan. Now, I may have found the incentive to get moving. I’m pasting the results of this study on my bathroom mirror.

Barbara Fenesi, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow at McMaster University and lead author on the McMaster study says:

“A physically active lifestyle helps the brain operate more effectively. However, if a physician were to ask us today what type of exercise to prescribe for a patient to reduce the risk of dementia, the honest answer is ‘we really don’t know.’”

I’m taking to heart the fact that aerobic exercise would be good for me. But I’m also taking to heart the fact that meditation, yoga, tai chi, and other methods of staying emotionally, spiritually, and physically fit do count. This is born out in the MEND study which demonstrated success with reversing early stages of Alzheimer’s disease in a small group of people using individually tailored programs for each person that included all aspects of health.

I will try to find an aerobic activity that I will stick with, but I won’t castigate myself for past laziness since yoga has been with me for decades, as has meditation. My own belief is that we all must find healthy ways of living that we will actually stay with. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t reach further. Today I will go for a long, quick-paced walk and I know that I’ll feel invigorated. The challenge will be maintaining my enthusiasm as the shock of this study fades.

Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver having spent over two decades caring for a total of seven elders. She is a longtime newspaper columnist and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories,” as well as a contributor to several additional books on caregiving and dementia. Her websites can be accessed at Follow Carol on Twitter @mindingourelder and on Facebook Minding Our Elders.

Carol Bradley Bursack
Meet Our Writer
Carol Bradley Bursack

Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver who spent more than two decades caring for a total of seven elders. This experience provided her with her foundation upon which she built her reputation as a columnist, author, blogger, and consultant. Carol is as passionate about supporting caregivers work through the diverse challenges in their often confusing role as she is about preserving the dignity of the person needing care. Find out much more about Carol at