Exercising With Others Is More Likely To Reduce Dementia Risk

Incorporating social interaction into exercise routines may enhance cognitive resilience in older adults, shows a study from Japan.

AsianScientist (Feb. 17, 2023) –Going on a weekend hike with your friends may have felt more rewarding than your solo morning run. Exercise–even when done alone–makes a monumental difference to our overall health, but working out with others could be even better for keeping our brains healthy as we age, suggests a recent study published in the Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics.

The study is particularly important for older people as they are more likely to suffer from dementia–a gradual cognitive decline in memory, reasoning and social abilities. Dementia is one of the leading causes of disability among the elderly, worldwide. Although a definitive treatment of dementia is not available yet, some risk factors can be effectively managed to avoid this debilitating fate.

Much like ‘two is better than one’, a research team in Japan has found that pairing up two accessible and cost-effective practices– physical activity and social interaction—could help prevent age-related dementia.

Engaging in physical activity with others and communicating during the exercise may provide a more cognitively stimulating experience rather than doing it alone, Tomohiro Okura, lead author of the study and professor at the University of Tsukuba, told Asian Scientist Magazine

In 2017, the research team used an inventory mail survey to gather information from 4,358 elderly Japanese adults in Japan’s Kasama city, to establish a baseline for understanding their exercise habits and whether they preferred to exercise alone or with others. The study team also utilized a local government database to track the cognitive health of the study participants over a period of nearly four years.

The team performed statistical analyses to investigate the relationship between cognitive decline, exercise frequency, and social engagement during exercise. The researchers found that those who exercised alone twice or more per week had a 15.1% lower risk of developing cognitive impairment. However, the results showed a more significant decrease in risk, at 29.2%, for those who exercised with others at least twice per week.

“[Maintaining] social relationships are a well-known factor in dementia prevention,” said Okura. “Many older people have made the habit of exercising alone with the coronavirus pandemic, but we would now encourage them to exercise with their friends.”

Earlier studies have reported that staying socially engaged helps decrease the likelihood of depression and social isolation–both recognized as risk factors for dementia.

In Okura’s study, majority of the participants said that they exercised by themselves. Okura explained that these findings highlight that although exercising alone–the more prevalent form of exercise among the elderly–does provide cognitive benefits, adding the social element could make regular exercise all the more preventive.

The study also acknowledges the influence of exercise frequency on cognitive benefits.  Earlier studies have shown that there is a dose-response relationship between exercise frequency and cognitive performance—high-intensity exercise benefits speed of processing, but moderate intensity exercise is most beneficial for executive function.

According to Okura, in order to develop exercise programs aimed at preventing dementia and other cognitive impairments, future research should consider additional factors such as the level of intensity and type of physical activity, as well as the social interactions that occur during exercise.

“The psychological state and conversation dynamics during exercise may vary between sessions that only consist of married couples and those that involve a diverse group of men and women of all ages,” said Okura. “Furthermore, the impact on cognitive function could be impacted by the composition of participants and those who are organizing the exercise session.”

Source: University of Tsukuba; Image: Shutterstock

The article can be found at Impact of exercising alone and exercising with others on the risk of cognitive impairment among older Japanese adults.

Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.


Nishat is a science journalist. She graduated with an MSc in Biomedical Science from Monash University where she worked with a cellular model of Parkinson’s Disease. Nishat loves lending her voice to bring science closer to society.

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