High Cardiovascular Fitness May Fend Off Dementia

by Joy Montgomery March 16, 2018, 5:01
High Cardiovascular Fitness May Fend Off Dementia

Over 44 years of follow-up, the adjusted hazard ratio for dementia was 0.12 for women with high cardiovascular fitness and 1.41 for low-fitness women, compared with women of medium fitness, reported Helena Horder, PhD, of the University of Gothenburg and colleagues.

They were tested for dementia six times. Of those who participated in the study, women who developed dementia did so at about 90, rather than 79. A subsample of 191 women participated in an exercise test and were followed until December 2012 for dementia diagnoses.

During the test, the women's workload was measured, based on how much weight or resistance could be added to the bicycle before they became tired.

The women were tested for dementia six times.

The study did not show a direct cause-and-effect between exercise and dementia, and the results are not particularly surprising, but the difference in dementia risks was highly significant. Of all the participants, 40 were considered of a high fitness level, 92 ranged in the medium fitness levels and 59 placed in the lowest fitness category.

Scientists found that only five per cent of the highly fit women developed dementia, compared with 25 per cent of the moderately fit and 32 per cent of those with low fitness levels. Hörder added that 45 per cent of women who struggled with the exercise test so much that they needed to stop the test developed dementia in later life.

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Alzheimer's and other dementias are believed to begin 15-20 years before symptoms even appear, so it makes sense that exercising in mid-life would affect the risk, Skoog said.

For women, physical fitness in midlife may do more than give the heart a boost; it may also benefit the brain, a new study from Sweden suggests. In addition, the 1968 exercise test measured work capacity, not maximal oxygen consumption with expired gas analysis, which is the gold standard for cardio-respiratory fitness, and the women's fitness level was measured only once, so changes in fitness over time were not captured.

He said it raises people's awareness about the need to be physically fit, particularly in later life.

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, Hörder said. Overall, the women who were highly fit decreased their dementia risk by as much as 88%.

The study was supported by the Forte-Centre Aging and Health: Centre for Capability in Ageing (AGECAP).

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