The benefits of playing sport versus risk of dementia

Find out why possible links between contact sports and dementia must be balanced against the benefits of physical exercise on the brain. 

Please note - This information reflects the evidence at the time of the roundtable in April 2017. This is an active area of research, and new findings are emerging that may change the level of evidence available. Please contact [email protected] if you have any questions related to this report. 

A concern amongst many of the experts was that headlines linking playing football to dementia may have a negative effect on participation in all sport. 

Physical activity and exercise have one of the strongest bodies of evidence when it comes to reducing the risk of dementia. In contrast, even if head injuries associated with football do indeed appear to lead to an increased risk of dementia, this risk is likely to be quite small. Footballers also tend to be much fitter and healthier than the general population, with better cardiovascular health. This in turn could lead to many footballers actually having a reduced risk of dementia due their active and healthy lifestyle, although this competing risk hypothesis has not been studied in detail. 

Since a large number of people that play recreational sport on a regular basis and are potentially subject to both the associated benefits and the associated risk of head injury, this is a relevant public health issue and deserves further investigation. 

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