Middle-aged women with fitness levels above average are ninety percent less likely to develop dementia in the second half of their lives than people with average fitness levels.
You are forty years or older, and you do not want to become demented in later life. Well, that is very possible – and it is not complicated. All you have to do is to get fit. According to a Swedish study published in Neurology people with high fitness levels have ninety percent less chance of developing dementia later in their lives than people with average fitness levels.
In 1968, Swedish researchers determined the fitness of 191 women aged 38-60 years. The women had to cycle, while the researchers gradually increased the amount of work the women had to produce to keep cycling. This continued until the women were exhausted. After the exercise test, the researchers followed the women for 44 years.
The fitter the women were, the smaller their chance of dementia. The chance of dementia among women with the highest fitness levels was as much as 88 percent smaller than among women with average fitness.
The researchers also corrected their data for body weight. After this, fitness still protected.
High fitness did not reduce the chance of dementia to zero. But when the fittest women became demented, it happened on average at the age of 90. If women with moderate fitness became demented, this happened 11 years earlier.
“These findings are exciting because it’s possible that improving people’s cardiovascular fitness in middle age could delay or even prevent them from developing dementia””, says first author Helena Horder, affiliated with the University of Gothenburg. [sciencedaily.com March 15, 2018]
“However, this study does not show cause and effect between cardiovascular fitness and dementia, it only shows an association. More research is needed to see if improved fitness could have a positive effect on the risk of dementia and also to look at when during a lifetime a high fitness level is most important.”
High fitness in middle age reduces the chance of dementia by ninety percent
There are different forms of dementia, and one is vascular dementia, which is the result of the clogging of blood vessels in the brain. Because of the introduction of the preventive use of statins, blood pressure medication and blood thinners in the late twentieth century physicians are eradicating this form of dementia.
However, part of the data in the Swedish study were collected in a time in which cardiology did not have all these options yet. It could just be that the protective effect of cardiovascular fitness in a study with more recent data will be less impressive. The correlation will of course not be completely absent. In the Swedish study, high fitness levels also protected against the Alzheimer variant of dementia. Alzheimer’s is not caused by damaged blood vessels, but by degeneration of brain cells’s proteins.
Neurology 2018;0:e1-e8. doi:10.1212/WNL.0000000000005290.