Inactivity, Genetic Variant Equally Likely to Lead to Dementia

Older woman with service dogPeople leading a sedentary lifestyle are as likely to develop Alzheimer’s as those with a genetic risk, according to a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. The study highlights how both genetic and lifestyle can affect the ultimate development of dementia.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 1 in 3 seniors dies with dementia. Family caregivers spend an average of $5,000 per year caring for loved ones with dementia, and Alzheimer’s claims more lives than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.

Inactivity and the Risk of Dementia

The study followed more than 1,600 Canadians who participated in the Canadian Study of Health and Aging for five years. Some participants carried a gene variant that is linked to an increased risk of developing dementia.

Among participants who did not have the genetic risk factor, exercise decreased the risk of developing dementia, while inactivity greatly increased the risk. People with the genetic variant who did exercise, however, did not significantly decrease their risk of dementia.

The study’s authors emphasize that most people who develop Alzheimer’s do not have the genetic variant. Those without the genetic variant may disregard their healthy genes if they are chronically inactive. This suggests exercise can be an effective strategy for lowering dementia risk. Researchers are not yet sure what type of exercise would be most beneficial for reducing dementia risk, but further research will compare the potential benefits of low-intensity and high-intensity workouts for aging adults.

Staying Active to Remain Healthy in Old Age

Several other studies have found exercise could reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. One study found exercise could reduce the gene variant-related Alzheimer’s risk—the same genetic risk factor analyzed in the new study.

Another recent study of more than 45,000 participants linked a healthy lifestyle—including exercise, a healthy weight, and a balanced diet—with better cognitive function and a reduced risk of dementia. The study also found people who remained active were more likely to eat more fruits and vegetables, suggesting an interrelationship between exercise, healthy eating, and a healthy brain.


  1. Cohen, A., Ardern, C. I., & Baker, J. (2016). Physical activity mediates the relationship between fruit and vegetable consumption and cognitive functioning: A cross-sectional analysis. Journal of Public Health. doi:10.1093/pubmed/fdw113
  2. Couch potatoes face same chance of dementia as those with genetic risk factors: Research. (2017, January 10). Retrieved from
  3. Fenesi, B., Fang, H., Kovacevic, A., Oremus, M., Raina, P., & Heisz, J. J. (2016). Physical exercise moderates the relationship of apolipoprotein E (APOE) genotype and dementia risk: A population-based study. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 1-7. doi:10.3233/jad-160424
  4. Latest Alzheimer’s facts and figures. (2016, March 29). Retrieved from

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  • Jonathan

    January 16th, 2017 at 2:10 PM

    The thing is that more doctors need to let more people know earlier that look, exercise is not just something that we should talk about for your physical health, but this has to do with your overall mental health as well. I think that if more people knew that earlier then maybe, just maybe we would see an increase in the numbers of people actually learning to and wanting to take care of themselves.

  • Gretchen

    January 20th, 2017 at 1:32 PM

    Sitting down and doing nothing is never going to be the key to longevity or any sort of quality of life. It is a prescription for disaster, and I think that there are so many medical professionals who would now tend to agree with that statement. I am not saying that you have to go out and run a marathon but for pete’s sake, get up off the couch and do a little something active every now and then.

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