Is Dementia Linked to Fitness?

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Is Dementia Linked to Fitness?

A new study recently published in the medical journal of Neurology, discovered that women with high stamina during exercise had an 88% lower risk of dementia compared to women who were moderately fit.

Helena Hörder, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Neurochemistry at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden stated,

“I was not surprised that there was an association, but I was surprised that it was such a strong association between the group with highest fitness and decreased dementia risk,”

An estimated 50 million people worldwide have dementia, with around 10 million new cases each year.

The study was comprised of 191 women, years 38 to 60, who completed an ergometer cycling test to evaluate their cardiovascular fitness.

“The level that you are so exhausted that you have to interrupt the test is a measure, in watts, of your work capacity,” Hörder said. “Cardiovascular fitness or endurance can also be tested in a submaximal test where you don’t push the person to maximal capacity.”

From the 191 women involved, 59 were in the “low fitness” group, 92 were in the “medium fitness” group, and 40 were in the “high fitness” group.

The cycling test was performed in 1968, and the women were followed for 44 years until 2012. Researchers found that 44 women developed dementia (23%), yet the women whose test had to be at submaximal workload, that percentage doubled to 45%.

“Many of those who interrupted the test at submax, very low watt level, probably had indications for a poor cardiovascular health status,” Hörder said. “This might indicate that processes in the cardiovascular system might be ongoing many decades before onset of dementia diagnosis.”

Furthermore, researchers also discovered that the average age of onset for dementia was 11 years older in the “high fitness” group compared to the “medium fitness” group.

More research is needed before any final conclusions can be made, however the bigger picture of this research is the importance of fitness in midlife, not just in old age.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, people could try to decrease cognitive decline by involving themselves in regular exercise, eating healthy, and getting a sufficient amount of sleep.