Published on: March 18, 2018
by Amanda Stewart for Saving Advice:
The Alzheimer’s Association estimated the direct cost to American society of Alzheimer’s and other dementias to be $259 billion in 2017. Because of the increasing number of older individuals being diagnosed, there is an ever-increasing need for ways to treat and lower risk of dementia.
A new study released by the University of Gothenburg found middle-aged women who exercise are nearly 90 percent less likely to develop dementia later in life.
How Exercise Can Lower Risk of Dementia
The study took a look at 191 women over the span of 44 years. For the study, each woman’s fitness and cognitive abilities were monitored. What researchers found was that highly fit women had a lower risk of dementia overall. If fit women developed dementia at all, it wasn’t until 10 or more years after their peers who were less active.
To determine how active each woman was, each took a bicycle test until they could go no farther at the age of 50. Forty of the 191 women met the criteria to be considered a high fitness level. Around 92 of the women were measured at a medium fitness level and 59 were categorized in the low level. The women’s fitness levels were only tracked once.
Then the women were followed for 44 years. Over that span of time, 44 of the women developed dementia. Thirty-two percent of women with low fitness levels at the age of 50 developed dementia later in life. Of those who were categorized as a medium fitness level, 25 percent developed dementia. Only 5 percent of the fit women experienced cognitive decline, giving them an 88 percent lower risk of dementia than the moderately fit group.
More Research Is Needed
Lead author Dr. Helena Hörder is optimistic about the findings. According to Hörder, the study is one of the clearest pieces of evidence linking exercise and brain health researchers have been able to find thus far. It is also one of the first steps in developing a possible prevention plan for some patients.
“This indicates that negative cardiovascular processes may be happening in midlife that could increase the risk of dementia much later in life,” said Hörder. If an individual has a family member that has dementia, they may be able to control whether or not they develop the disease (or how early they develop it) by exercising.
The study, while important, does not show a direct cause and effect between exercise and dementia. It only shows an association. Hörder and her colleagues are calling for more research. “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,” she said.
It is important to note that Hörder’s test was on a relatively small number of women in Sweden. The results obtained in this study may not apply to other groups throughout the world. More research is needed.
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