Study: Physical fitness effectively protects against dementia

How does women's fitness affect the risk of dementia?

Dementia is a disease that affects more and more people around the world. Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for those affected. Researchers have now identified some interesting effects of physical fitness related to dementia in women:

  • Physical fitness protects women from the development of dementia.
  • Extremely fit women had an 88 percent reduced risk of developing dementia.
  • When physically fit women develop dementia, the disease only occurs years later.
  • Middle-aged cardiovascular fitness appears to delay or even prevent the development of dementia
  • Cardiovascular processes in middle age increase the risk of dementia in later life.

In their current study, scientists from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden found that physical fitness can protect women from the development of dementia. The doctors published the results of their study in the English-language journal "Neurology".

Extremely fit women developed dementia 90 percent less often

Many men and women develop dementia every year. Women with high physical fitness seem to be better protected from the disease in middle age. The study found that these women were almost 90 percent less likely to develop dementia compared to moderately fit women. The study checked women's cardiovascular fitness using an exercise bike exercise test.

Physically fit women develop dementia much later

If women with high physical fitness develop dementia, they develop the disease on average eleven years later (for example, at the age of 90 instead of 79), compared to women who are not so fit, the experts say.

More research is needed

"The results are interesting because an improvement in cardiovascular fitness in middle age can delay or even prevent the development of dementia, explains study author Dr. Helena Hörder from the University of Gothenburg in a press release. However, the current study was unable to establish a cause and effect relationship between cardiovascular fitness and dementia, only an association. More research is now needed to determine how fitness can improve the risk of dementia and at what age increased fitness is most important.

Doctors examined 191 female subjects

For the study, the doctors examined a total of 191 women with an average age of 50 years. They were asked to take part in an exercise test on an ergometer until they were physically exhausted. The researchers wanted to measure the so-called maximum cardiovascular capacity. The average peak load was measured at 103 watts.

How did the women perform in the stress tests?

40 women met the criteria for a high fitness level (peak load of 120 watts or higher). A total of 92 participants belonged to the medium fitness category and 59 women belonged to the low fitness category, defined as a maximum workload of 80 watts or less. When women stopped their stress tests because of high blood pressure, chest pain, or other cardiovascular problems, they were also assigned to this lowest category of fitness.

How many women developed dementia?

The participating women were examined six times for dementia over a period of 44 years. During this time, 44 subjects developed dementia. Only five percent of high-performing women developed dementia, compared with 25 percent of moderately fit participants and 32 percent of women with low fitness. Highly fit women were 88 percent less likely to develop dementia compared to moderately fit women.

Study results

The results of the investigation showed the following results in the development of dementia:

  • 5 percent of the highly fit women developed dementia,
  • 25 percent of moderately fit women suffer from dementia,
  • 32 percent of women with low fitness developed the condition,
  • 45 percent of women who could not finish the test contracted dementia.

Middle-aged cardiovascular processes increase the risk of dementia

The results suggest that negative cardiovascular processes can occur in middle age, which may increase the risk of dementia much later in life, explains Dr. Killer.

What were the limitations of the investigation?

The study’s limitations included the relatively small number of women affected, all of whom are from Sweden, so the results may not be transferable to other populations, Dr. Adders. In addition, the fitness level of women was measured only once, so that changes in fitness over time were not recorded. (as)

Author and source information

Video: The effects of physical activity on Alzheimers disease biomarkers (August 2020).