In a recent study, researchers find that women with high physical fitness at middle age were nearly 90% less likely to develop dementia, compared to women who were moderately fit.
The study measured the women’s cardiovascular fitness based on an exercise test.
When the highly fit women did develop dementia, they developed the disease an average of 11 years later than women who were moderately fit, or at age 90 instead of age 79.
In the study, 191 women with an average age of 50 took a bicycle exercise test until they were exhausted to measure their peak cardiovascular capacity.
The average peak workload was measured at 103 watts. A total of 40 women met the criteria for a high fitness level, or 120 watts or higher.
A total of 92 women were in the medium fitness category; and 59 women were in the low fitness category, defined as a peak workload of 80 watts or less, or having their exercise tests stopped because of high blood pressure, chest pain or other cardiovascular problems.
Over the next 44 years, these women were tested for dementia six times.
During that time, 44 of the women developed dementia. 5% of the highly fit women developed dementia, compared to 25% of moderately fit women and 32% of the women with low fitness.
The highly fit women were 88% less likely to develop dementia than the moderately fit women.
Among the women who had to stop the exercise test due to problems, 45% developed dementia decades later.
The findings suggest it’s possible that improving people’s cardiovascular fitness in middle age could delay or even prevent them from developing dementia.
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.
Limitations of the study include the relatively small number of women involved, all of whom were from Sweden, so the results may not be applicable to other populations.
The study is published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
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News source: American Academy of Neurology.
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