Physically fit middle-aged women 90% less likely to develop dementia

Physically fit middle-aged women 90% less likely to develop dementia

A study from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, has found that women in middle age who are physically fit are nearly 90% less likely to develop dementia decades later.

The study, published in the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, measured the women’s cardiovascular fitness based on an exercise test to monitor dementia development.

It was found that the women who were highly fit did develop dementia but an average of 11 years later than those who were moderately fit, or at age 90 instead of age 79.

Improving cardiovascular fitness

Helena Hörder, PhD, of the University of Gothenburg and study author, said: “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.

“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.”

Measuring peak cardiovascular capacity

For the study, 191 women with an average age of 50 took a bicycle exercise test and their peak cardiovascular capacity was then measured. The exercise was stopped if high blood pressure, chest pain or other cardiovascular problems arose.

A total of 40 women met the high fitness level, while 92 women were in the medium fitness category and 59 women were in the low fitness category.

The women were then tested for dementia six times over the next 44 years, during which 44 of the women developed dementia.

What did the study find?

Results found that 5% of highly fit women, 25% of moderately fit women and 32% of women with low fitness got the disease.

It was highly fit women who were 88% less likely to develop the disease.

Hörder said that limitations of the study include the relatively small number of women involved, all of whom were from Sweden, so the results may not be applicable to other populations.

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