Exercise, fitness and dementia – are they linked? A recent study supports earlier research which indicates you can cut your risk of getting dementia (of which Alzheimer’s is the leading type) in old age through regular exercise.
The long-term study conducted over 44 years by researchers at the University of Gothenburg had some interesting findings:
- staying fit in middle age can cut a woman’s risk of developing dementia by almost 90%
- fit women who did develop dementia did so almost 11 years later on average than less fit women (at age 90 compared to 79 for the others)
- you don’t need to be “superfit” – “fit” when initial tests were conducted (1968) would be considered closer to average today given our current levels of fitness
It’s also good to know than being “fit” doesn’t necessarily correspond with being thin.
The researchers followed a group of women over 44 years. 191 women with an average age of 50 took a fitness test in 1968. The researchers then followed up with them 6 times over the next 44 years. Adjusting for people who died before they could ever develop the condition, the dementia risk was found to be 88 per cent lower for the fittest women compared to the moderately fit women, according to this article in ScienceDaily.
Five percent of the highly fit women developed dementia, compared to 25 percent of moderately fit women and 32 percent of the women with low fitness. The highly fit women were 88 percent less likely to develop dementia than the moderately fit women.
The study was published in published the March 14, 2018, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology . Their news release quotes the study’s lead author, Dr Helena Hörder, as saying:
“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.”
A Daily Mail article on the report goes on to claim:
“Midlife has long been thought to be a ‘sensitive period’ for the risk of dementia, which affects one in six people over the age of 80 and an estimated 850,000 people in Britain. The authors say that, although their results are based on midlife fitness, it is probably never too late to start exercising.”
The study shows correlation and not causation. But other studies have shown correlations between exercise level and heart disease, blood pressure and cholesterol, and diabetes; which in turn have all been shown to have correlation with Alzheimer’s.
According to Dr David Reynolds, chief scientific officer at Alzheimer’s Research UK:
‘While studies like this can’t definitively show cause and effect, it adds to research suggesting that middle age is key time for people to take steps to promote their brain health.’
And, I’ve written before about studies showing a link between life-satisfaction and exercise. So with so many good things going for it, why aren’t we exercising more?
Find the study report here.