Middle-aged women who are highly physically fit may have a reduced risk of developing dementia, according to a new study.
If you’ve fallen behind in exercising over the years or struggle to do it regularly, these study findings might be the motivation you need.
MIDDLE-AGED WOMEN, FITNESS, AND DEMENTIA
The study, which was published in the medical journal Neurology last month, involved 191 Swedish women with an average age of 50 years old. At the beginning of the study in 1968, the researchers used a bicycle test to measure the women’s cardiovascular fitness levels.
Fourty of the women were at a high fitness level, 92 were at a medium fitness level, and 59 were at a low fitness level with some having to stop their tests due to chest pain, high blood pressure, or other heart-related problems.
Over the 44 years, the women were tested six times for dementia: in 1974, 1980, 1992, 2000, 2005, and 2009.
DEMENTIA AND EXERCISE: WHAT THE STUDY FOUND
Over the 44-year period, 44 of the women developed dementia—but the specific findings were interesting.
Of the women who developed dementia:
- 32 percent were at the low fitness level
- 25 percent were at the moderate fitness level
- 5 percent were at the high fitness level
And here’s something else: For those in the highly fit group who did develop dementia, the age of dementia onset was delayed by 9.5 years later than the moderately fit group.
The women at a high fitness level were 88 percent less likely to develop dementiathan the women of a moderate fitness level.
And out of the women at a low fitness level who had to stop the tests due to health problems, 45 percent developed dementia in the 44-year time period.
Of course, more research needs to be done on this topic in larger proportions and in different populations. But it does demonstrate an association between physical fitness and dementia.
The study also suggests boosting your cardiovascular fitness, even at middle age, may help prevent or delaying dementia down the road.
DECREASE YOUR RISK WITH DIET AND EXERCISE
Dementia symptoms can include memory loss (the earliest symptom), trouble carrying out tasks, recalling recent people, events, or places, and not keeping up with personal care.
The exact cause of dementia is not known (besides damage to or changes in the brain), but many studies like this remind us of the link between dementia and lifestyle choices.
Be sure you’re doing all you can to take care of yourself, including:
- Getting regular intense cardiovascular exercise.
- Eating a healthy diet to stay at a healthy weight and prevent diet-related health conditions like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
- Staying away from harmful foods like canola oil, unhealthy sugars and carbs, and processed foods.
- Quitting smoking (or never doing it in the first place).
- Reducing your amount of daily stress with activities you enjoy and protect your brain from oxidative stress with anti-inflammatory foods and Omega 3s.
- Staying socially involved in your community and mentally alert through reading, trying new hobbies, and other brain activities like crossword puzzles.
The information continues to underline the importance of caring for our bodies through good diet, regular exercise, and healthy habits that engage us physically and mentally.