Purpose: One limitation of research that assesses the effectiveness of physical activity interventions for people with dementia is that most do not describe the intervention in sufficient detail to ascertain a theoretical basis or mechanism of action that determines the effective components. This paper aims to identify studies which evaluate the mechanisms of action of physical activity interventions for people with dementia, to further inform effective intervention development.
Design/methodology/approach: Papers were screened for evidence of evaluation of specific forms of physical activity, using pre-defined inclusion criteria. Analysis was conducted to ascertain if mechanisms of action were corroborated by data within and between studies.
Findings: The authors identified 26 studies with a measured mechanism of action; these related to the effects of physical activity on either neurological structure or endocrinal markers, including hormones. Physical activity had potential to reduce hippocampal atrophy, increase neural recruitment, activate the noradrenergic system and improve anti-inflammatory responses. While individual studies were hampered by small sample sizes, the body of evidence indicated that physical activity may have potential to delay cognitive decline.
Practical implications: Mechanisms of action in relation to dementia and physical activity are likely to be multifaceted, and physical activity may be protective against progression in the early stages of cognitive decline. Physical activity may be of greatest benefit if incorporated into on-going lifestyle, rather than engaged in for short periods, and combined with social interaction.
Originality/value: This paper is unique in its focus on the mechanisms of action of physical activity interventions for people with dementia.
- cognitive impairment or decline
- physical activity
- systematic review