Keep your body moving to keep your brain going: a study published in Neurology found women who were fit in middle age had a lower risk of dementia more than forty years later. The study began in 1968 and included 191 Swedish women, ages 38 to 60, who were participants in a larger study called the Prospective Population Study of Women. At the beginning of the study, these women performed a cardiovascular fitness test during which researchers measured the women’s peak workload (energy output) while they cycled to exhaustion. A peak workload of 120 watts or higher was considered a high fitness level, and a peak workload of 80 watts or lower was considered a low fitness level. Over the following 44 years, researchers monitored the women for cases of dementia through results on periodic examinations and interviews, hospital records, and registry data. After adjusting for varying socioeconomic, lifestyle, and medical factors, they found that:
Of the 44 women who developed dementia, the majority had low fitness levels at middle age; specifically, 32% had low fitness levels, 25% had moderate fitness levels, and only 5% had high fitness levels.
Of the women who developed dementia, those with high fitness levels developed it, on average, 11 years later than those with moderate fitness levels.
Women with high fitness levels in middle age were 88% less likely to develop dementia than the women with moderate fitness levels.
These findings make a good argument for staying fit in middle age to help ensure better health later in life. Even though more research is needed to prove a causal relationship between middle-aged fitness and dementia risk, the plethora of evidence supporting the benefits of exercise, including better heart health and immunity, and reduced glaucoma risk, might convince you to get moving now. If you haven’t exercised in a while and need momentum, check out our guide for help easing into exercise.