Skip to main content
Welcome to
super saver spring
offer ends april 20
save over $140
save over 85%
$0.99
per week for 24 weeks
Welcome to
super saver spring
$0.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

Activities like ballroom dancing that combine physical and cognitive are thought to be especially helpful.

Enrique Marcarian/Reuters

More than half a million Canadians have Alzheimer's disease, and that number is expected to double within the next 30 years. But a new report by the government-funded Ontario Brain Institute suggests there is a cost-effective solution, which would drastically curb that growth: physical activity.

While ways of treating Alzheimer's are limited, regular physical activity can reduce people's risk of developing the neuro-degenerative disease by nearly 40 per cent, according to the report. It can also help maintain or even improve cognition as people age, and can significantly increase the quality of life of those who have the disease.

The report, which summarizes the findings of more than 900 papers spanning 50 years of research, is described as the largest meta-analysis on the topic to date, providing strong evidence of the power of physical activity on the health of the brain.

Story continues below advertisement

In an online presentation to reporters on Thursday, Dr. Donald Stuss, president and scientific director of the Ontario Brain Institute, noted that the economic cost of Alzheimer's disease in Canada is around $15-billion a year. By encouraging the entire population to become physically active, more than 41,000 cases could be avoided, saving the country between $236-million to $2.6-billion a year.

But even convincing 10 per cent of Canadians who are currently inactive to take up physical activity could have a huge impact; it would amount to an estimated 3,445 avoidable cases of Alzheimer's disease and a savings of $19-million to $217-million a year, Stuss said. Economic costs are only part of the picture, he added. "It's not just health-care costs. The personal and societal costs are significant – and that means the costs [to] families, caregivers."

Unfortunately, he said, most Canadians exercise well below the minimum amount needed to be considered physically active, or the equivalent of 30 accumulative minutes a day of brisk walking. On average, around 60 per cent of Canadians reported themselves as not meeting this threshold.

"That is not a high standard that needs to be met," Stuss said. "This is something everyone can work to. It's not marathon running. It is not necessarily going to the gym. It is activity; ways of being just mobile."

It is yet unknown just how much physical activity and what kinds of exercise are best for preventing Alzheimer's disease, said Laura Middleton, an assistant professor of kinesiology at the University of Waterloo, although she and Stuss recommended activities like ballroom dancing that combine physical and cognitive skills.

However, while speaking to reporters, Middleton noted that research indicates that becoming active earlier in life may have the greatest impact.

"What we found, perhaps surprisingly, is that physical activity levels at teen age were most strongly associated with the reduction in the rates of cognitive impairment in late life," she said, explaining that active teenagers were 35 per cent less likely to eventually develop Alzheimer's disease, and other forms of dementia, as well as milder cognitive issues, compared with people who became active later in life, who had a 20 to 30 per cent lower risk. "It does seem that starting earlier may be better."

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies