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A step-by-step guide to reducing dementia risk through exercise

Stop working harder and start working smarter with our simple guidelines.

Can regular physical activity help prevent dementia?
Scientific Evidence*
Impact on Brain Health**
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Close your eyes and picture yourself. 

How long do you think it would take for the mental image that you’re imagining to change

In our last coaching article, we set up a weekly checklist to ensure that we’re intentionally getting more exercise and physical activity into our week. 

And in this coaching article, we’re going to guide you through how to set yourself up for success over the next three weeks so that you will also develop a new mental image of yourself.

After the next 21 days, you’ll close your eyes and see yourself as someone who intentionally exercises and actively takes science-backed steps to reduce your risk of cognitive decline and dementia. 

From couch to cognitive incline in 21 days

Starting a new exercise routine is similar to getting a nose job.

No, seriously. Hear us out. 

The concept came from Cosmetic Surgeon Dr Maxwell Malt’s 1960s book

He noticed that it took patients who underwent surgery to change their appearance at least 21 days to let go of the old mental image that they had of themselves. After the three-week mark, most patients had formed a new picture of themselves in their mind that included their recent cosmetic changes.

For his patients, that meant it took at least 21 days to get used to their new nose, face, or reshaped body part. 

Over the next three weeks, while we won’t be undergoing any surgery, our goal will also be to change how we picture ourselves when we close our eyes.

We’re going to work on re-establishing our identity and seeing ourselves as somebody who uses exercise to protect our brain health to:

  • reduce cognitive decline

  • have a better quality of life in our later years

  • be around longer for our loved ones

If the next three weeks were a delicious meal, the recipe would require only two secret ingredients:

  1. Intentional activities and (2) a plan for progressing those activities safely.

Secret ingredient one: intentional activities

Let’s imagine you have set a goal to be more physically active. The next time you have a choice between taking the stairs and taking the escalator, you’re hoping that:

A) You’ll remember to take the stairs, even if you’re not already in the habit of doing so.
B) You’ll be motivated enough to take the stairs, even if you’re tired or late for an appointment.

However, this is just setting yourself up for failure.

A better strategy would be to follow the advice of our last coaching article, where we set up a checklist that set clear intentions by choosing a specific activity to be done at a predetermined date, time and place

If you haven’t had a chance to do that yet, you can find that coaching article here, where we’ll walk you through the process step by step.

Secret ingredient two: planning safe progressions

Today we’ll expand that weekly checklist to a three-week action plan. 

Our goal is to gradually build up our exercise tolerance until we can reach the evidence-based weekly recommendation for cardio exercises, which is at least 150 minutes of exercise per week at a relatively moderate effort level.

A moderate effort is where you can speak in complete sentences but not sing (WHO and NHS).

As well as the science-backed weekly recommendations for strengthening exercises, which are three rounds of two exercises for all the biggest muscles in your body twice a week (NHS)

If you’re feeling eager and motivated to jump right into these weekly prescriptions, that’s great!

However, the best way to do this is to progress slowly and safely to avoid injury.

The ideal plan is to progress by 10% every week.

Dr Tim Gabbett, who has PhDs in Human Physiology and Applied Sport Science, has published research showing that:

  • Increasing the amount of exercise you do by 15% every week raises the risk of getting injured to 21%.
  • Increasing how much you do by 50% every week brings your risk of injury up by 38%.
He concluded that the fastest rate of progression with the least amount of risk is 10% per week.

Get a 21 days step-by-step exercise guide on our app!  

Our app is designed to help you check your brain health and improve vital lifestyle factors such as your physical activity level. 

We’ll coach you step-by-step in the five pillars of brain health: sleep, nutrition, mood and social, physical activity, and mental stimulation,  to ensure you’re doing the most to protect your brain long-term for yourself and your loved ones. 

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