Those looking to reduce the likelihood of getting dementia in later life should think about their fitness regime.
Are there links between fitness and dementia? In a study published in in Lancet Public Health, researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology emphasised how keeping fit can ward off the disease.
“It is important to say that it is never too late to begin exercising,” says Atefe Tari of the Cardiac Exercise Research Group (CERG) at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).
“The average participant in our study was around 60 years old at baseline, and improvement in cardiorespiratory fitness was strongly linked to lower dementia risk. Those who had poor fitness in the 1980s but improved it within the next decade could expect to live two years longer without dementia.
“Persistently low fitness is an independent risk factor for dementia and death due to dementia.”
The higher, the better
Dementia involves a progressive decline in cognitive functions, severe enough to interfere with the ability to function independently. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia.
By 2050, it is estimated that 150 million people in the world will have dementia – a tripling of the incidence of the disease today. There is no cure. Men live on average five years after being diagnosed with dementia, while women live for seven years on average after the diagnosis.
“As there is currently no effective drug for dementia, it is important to focus on prevention. Exercise that improves fitness appears to be one of the best medicines to prevent dementia,” says Tari.
Tari’s study is one of many to show a link between good fitness and dementia risk decreasing. What is unique, however, is that Tari and her research colleagues have measured the fitness level of participants twice ten years apart.
This has enabled the team to evaluate how changes in fitness over time are related to dementia risk.
The results showed that exercise appears to be one of the best medicines to prevent dementia.
“If you increase your cardiorespiratory fitness from poor to good you almost halve the risk of getting dementia. You also reduce the risk of dying from or with dementia.” says Tari.
Fitness and dementia
The study provides very good evidence that maintaining good fitness is also good for the brain. However, Tari points out that this does not necessarily mean that everyone who is physically active on a regular basis is guaranteed a good effect on brain health.
Tari said: “High-intensity exercise improves fitness faster than moderate exercise, and we recommend that everyone exercise with a high heart rate at least two days each week.
“Regular exercise that makes you sweaty and out of breath will ensure your fitness will be good for your age. Our study suggests that good fitness for your age can delay dementia by two years and that you can also live two to three years longer after being diagnosed with dementia.”