A new study on fitness and dementia from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden suggests women with high physical fitness in middle age are nearly 90% less likely to develop dementia decades later, compared with women who are moderately fit. If these highly fit women did develop dementia, they did so on average 11 years later than women who were moderately fit, or at age 90 instead of age 79.
“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,” said study author Helena Hörder. “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.”
For the study, 191 women, average age 50, took a bicycle exercise test to measure their peak cardiovascular capacity. A total of 40 women met the criteria for a high fitness level, 92 women were in the medium fitness category, and 59 women were low fitness.
Over the next 44 years, subjects were tested for dementia six times. During that period, 44 developed dementia: 5% of the highly fit women; 25% of moderately fit women: 32% of the women with low fitness. The highly fit women were 88% less likely to develop dementia than the moderately fit women.
Some women had to stop the original exercise test due to problems such as chest pain or high blood pressure; 45% of this group developed dementia.
(Neurology Journal, 14 March 2018 online.)