Reducing dementia risk: thumbs up for midlife fitness

The fear of dementia looms large in the minds of the over 50s, with the data from one survey showing that 43% of those questioned were more fearful of dementia compared to 30% being more fearful of cancer. Now a decades long study may help allay such fears by offering a path to lowering the likelihood of dementia late in life.

High cardiovascular fitness during middle age linked to lower likelihood of dementia late in life.

In the late 1960s 191 middle-aged Swedish women were asked by researchers to ride an exercise bike to exhaustion. Grouping the results according to peak cardiovascular capacity, 40 participants made the high fitness criteria, 92 sat in the medium category and 59 were in the lowest category. Over the following 44 years, the women were tested for dementia six times. Just 5% of the highly fit women developed dementia, compared with 25% and 32% respectively, for those in the moderate and low fitness groups. The study, carried out by the University of Gothenburg, further suggested the highly fit women were 88% less likely to develop dementia than even the moderately fit women.

While the study has limitations due to its relatively small sample size and because it ran for so long – so some women may have died before the end – it does add evidence to the theory that cardiovascular fitness is an important aspect of dementia prevention. It can’t tell us whether exercise alone is likely to reduce dementia risk, but the findings add to an ever-growing body of research connecting heart health to brain health.

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