A new study from Sweden found that women with the highest level of fitness in middle age were 90% less likely to have dementia later in life.
This study followed 191 women for over 44 years. Fitness level was initially evaluated in 1968 when the women had an average age of 50 years old. At that time, 40 of the women were considered to have a high fitness level, 92 had a medium fitness level, and 59 had a low fitness level.
Over the next 44 years, 44 of the women were diagnosed with dementia. When evaluated using the original fitness levels, it was found that 32% of the women in the low fitness level group were diagnosed with dementia and 25% of the women in the medium fitness level group were diagnosed with dementia. Impressively, only 5% of the women in the high fitness level group had dementia diagnosis. This is a 90% decrease in risk!
A lead researcher, Helena Hoarder, PhD said, “An interesting mechanism that needs to be further investigated is the direct effects of physical activity and high fitness on brain structures, such as the hippocampus. Age-related changes in brain structures might be delayed through positive effects on small vessel circulation, inflammatory mechanisms, and growth factors.”
The takeaway here is that an active body helps to keep an active a healthy brain. While risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease varies on a number of factors, including genetics, dietary choices and nutrient intake, stress, levels, sleep quality, and a number of other lifestyle behaviors, being active throughout your life is incredibly important to maintaining brain function.
How does your fitness level measure up? If you are currently physically active continue to challenge yourself by trying new aerobic activities (such as swimming, hiking, or classes) and incorporating strength training and balance training (such as yoga) for a well-rounded fitness routine. If you are not currently participating in any physical activity, start slow and incorporate more movement into your daily life by walking short distances, spend less time sitting, and finding easy stretches and balance activities to try. As always, before starting any fitness routine, please consult your doctor.
For more information on the role of physical activity in brain health or how lifestyle changes can improve cognition, visit www.affirmativhealth.com.
Horder H, Johansson L, Guo X, et al. Midlife cardiovascular fitness and dementia. A 4-year longitudinal population study in women. Neurology. March 2018.