For middle-aged women, physical fitness may do more than give the heart a boost; it may also benefit the brain in a big way. Recent findings out of Sweden show that middle-aged women with a “high degree” of cardiovascular fitness are 90% less likely to develop dementia later in life than those who had just a moderate fitness level.
The study, published in the journal Neurology, also discovered that if the middle-aged women who maintained a high fitness level did develop dementia, the symptoms tended to emerge 11 years later (on average) than they did for the women who had a moderate fitness level.
To conduct this study, a team of researchers from the Center for Aging and Health at the University of Gothenburg studied the health data of 191 local women, ages 38-60, from 1968-2012. At the beginning of the trial, the participants were given an exercise test in which they cycled on a stationary bike until they felt exhausted.
After tracking the health of the women for 44 years, the researchers found that the initial fitness test scores helped predict whether the participants would be diagnosed with dementia later in life. The results showed that 32% of the women with a low fitness score developed dementia during the study period, compared with 25% of women with a moderate fitness score and just 5% of the highly fit women.
The highest dementia rates were seen in women who started the exercise test but couldn’t complete it: a whopping 45% of these women went on to develop dementia later on in life.
Though this singular study doesn’t fully prove a direct link between exercise and a lowered risk of dementia, it’s clear that exercising frequently (aim for 150 minutes per week) is extremely beneficial for both the body and brain. In years to come, studies like this one will allow researchers to provide clearer recommendations for exercise and other lifestyle modifications to reduce the risk of dementia and more.
Dr. Stickney, a Kirkland orthopedic surgeon, is an expert in exercise and health, joint replacement surgery, sports medicine and more. Contact Dr. Stickney and return to your healthy, pain-free lifestyle!