Newsletter Article

The Link Between Physical Activity and Dementia

November 2016

Dementia is a collective term used to describe various symptoms of cognitive decline caused by brain disease or brain injury.[1] Several of the diseases that fall into this category include Alzheimer’s disease, Vascular dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and Huntington’s disease. There is currently no cure for these brain diseases, but certain medications are used to help maintain function and slow the progression of the disease.

In the Framingham study, subjects were followed for over a decade.[2] Physical activity was compared to the incidence of dementia, brain volume, and hippocampal volume. Subjects who were in the lowest quintile of physical activity had a higher risk of dementia compared to those in the higher quintiles. Physical activity also showed a positive linear relationship with total brain volume and hippocampal volume. The hippocampus is primarily associated with memory development and storage, but it also plays a role in spatial navigation.

Another study looking at long term physical activity and dementia focused on leisure time physical activity (LTPA).[3] Subjects were classified as having low, moderate, or high levels of LTPA at midlife. Those with low and moderate levels of LTPA during midlife had a higher risk of developing dementia compared to those with high levels. Maintaining high LTPA or increasing LTPA after midlife was associated with lower risk for dementia.

Another long-term study on physical activity and its link to dementia included assessment of different types of cognitive activities at baseline and at 38 years later.[4] Researchers found that total cognitive engagement was related to a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and physical activity was related to a reduced risk of vascular dementia. Artistic engagement was related to a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and intellectual engagement was related to a reduced risk of mixed and total dementia.

These studies show the importance of physical activity throughout our lives. It may help to maintain brain volume, but it may also impact other areas. Keeping our minds active through intellectual and artistic activities may provide some protective effects as well.

Green Beans

Green beans, also known as string beans, can usually be found in markets throughout the year, but their season peaks from summer to early fall.[5] Beans from the family Phaseolus Vulgaris, or common beans, include green beans, kidney beans, navy beans, and black beans. They are called common beans because they all originated from a common ancestor in Peru. Green beans are picked when they are young and fresh on the vine. If they are allowed to reach full maturity, the pods are often too thick and fibrous to be enjoyed whole, but the beans inside the pods are excellent for drying and storing.

Green beans are an excellent source of vitamin K, and they also contain vitamin C, manganese, folate, and other micronutrients. Vitamin K plays a key role in helping blood clot. Because uncontrolled bleeding can be common in infants, a single injection of vitamin K is standard soon after birth.[6] New research has shown that vitamin K may be beneficial for bone health as well. A study using a form of vitamin K helped reduce the risk of fractures in postmenopausal women.[7]

Although we don’t normally think of greens beans as having important antioxidant pigments, they actually contain lutein, beta-carotene, violaxathin, and neozanthin. We don’t see these different colors in green beans because of their high levels of chlorophyll, which gives them their vibrant green color.

When selecting green beans, they should have a bright green color and should be free of brown spots or bruises. They can be stored in a plastic bag in a refrigerator crisper. The low temperature will also help reduce the loss of vitamin C during storage. If needed, green beans can also be frozen. It is recommended that they are steamed for 2-3 minutes, allowed to cool, and then put in a freezer bag.

Green Beans With Pecans and Maple Vinaigrette

¾ cup pecans
kosher salt and black pepper
2 pounds green beans, trimmed
¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup

Heat oven to 400º F. Spread the pecans on a rimmed baking sheet and bake, tossing once, until toasted, 6 to 8 minutes. Let cool, then roughly chop.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil and add 1 tablespoon salt. Add the green beans and cook until just tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Drain and run under cold water to cool.

In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, mustard, maple syrup, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Add the green beans and pecans and toss to combine.

Recipe from


Improving balance is important for many groups of people, but particularly so for the elderly, individuals who have had a stroke, and those with certain neurological disorders.

In elderly women, a jumping and resistance training program was implemented to help to reduce falls and increase bone strength.[8] The women used this program for 1 year and had a follow-up at 5 years. Compared to the control group, the women who participated in the jumping and resistance training program had 63% fewer falls, 51% fewer injurious falls, and 74% less fractures. Researchers concluded that the program was very effective at reducing falls and injuries from falls.

In stroke patients, gait speed can be a good indicator of balance and how comfortable a person is with walking.[9] When these patients take part in resistance training at least 6 months after a stroke, a significant improvement in gait speed and 6 minute walk tests are typically seen. This improvement implies that balance has also improved.

Parkinson’s patients suffer from tremors, bradykinesia, rigidity, and balance issues. A study compared a modified stretching, balance, and strengthening program (mFC) to a progressive resistance training (PRT) program.[10] After 24 months of each of these trainings, the off-medication UPDRS-III scores decreased significantly more than the mFC group. UPDRS-III scores are a motor examination that includes rigidity, gait, postural stability, and other kinetic measurements. The higher the score means the person has greater limitations and movement issues.

Resistance training can have a positive effect on balance and gait for a variety of populations. It can help maintain and possibly improve balance and quality of life for many people.

Health Matters is written by Lindsey Guthrie, MS, RD, LD/N and Tyler Guthrie, MS, CSCS.


  1. Alzheimer’s Association. Types of Dementia.
  2. Tan ZS, Spartano NL, Beiser AS, et al. Physical Activity, Brain Volume, and Dementia Risk: The Framingham Study. The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences. 2016; July 15.
  3. Tolppanen AM, Solomon A, Kulmala J, et al. Leisure-time physical activity from mid-to late life, body mass index, and risk of dementia. Alzheimer’s & Dementia. 2015; 11(4): 434.
  4. Al-Najjar, et al. “Leisure artistic and intellectual engagements and physical activity in midlife are associated with reduced risk of late-life dementia: A 38-year follow-up.” Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association. 2015; 11(7): P728.
  5. The George Mateljan Foundation. Green Beans.
  6. WebMD. Vitamin K.
  7. Hamidi MS, Gajic-Veljanoski O, Cheung AM. “Vitamin K and bone health”. Journal of Clinical Densitometry. 2013; 16(4): 409.
  8. Karinkanta S, Kannus, P, Uusi-Rasi K, Heinonen A, Sievnanen H. Combined resistance and balance-jumping exercise reduces older women’s injurious falls and fractures: 5-year follow-up study. Age and Ageing. 2015; 44 (5): 784.
  9. Mehta, Swati, et al. “Resistance training for gait speed and total distance walked during the chronic stage of stroke: a meta-analysis.” Topics in Stroke Rehabilitation. 2014; 19(6): 471.
  10. Corcos, Daniel M., et al. “A two‐year randomized controlled trial of progressive resistance exercise for Parkinson’s disease.” Movement Disorders. 2013; 28(9): 1230.

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