Staying fit in middle age can slash women’s risk of dementia by almost 90 per cent.
Fit women are diagnosed with dementia an average of 11 years later than those in worse physical condition.
A study following women over 44 years found exercise may protect against the devastating condition.
Researchers from the University of Gothenburg put women through a spinning class to determine their fitness, based on when they reached exhaustion.
Following them up four decades later, the highly fit women were 88 per cent less likely to get dementia than those of medium fitness.
If they did get it, it was at an average age of 90, compared to the age of 79 for the medium fitness group.
The fitness test was carried out in 1968, and experts say these women would be of average fitness now, when people exercise more.
Fit women are diagnosed with dementia an average of 11 years later than those in worse physical condition, scientists have revealed
It is believed keeping fit reduces the odds of having high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, which have all been linked to Alzheimer’s and similar forms of dementia.
Exercising may even be more important than staying thin, as the most fit group often had the same BMI as those of medium fitness.
The study’s lead author, Dr Helena Hörder, said: ‘These findings are exciting because it’s possible that improving people’s cardiovascular fitness in middle age could delay or even prevent them from developing dementia.
‘However, this study does not show cause and effect between cardiovascular fitness and dementia – it only shows an association.
‘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.’
For the study, 191 women with an average age of 50 took a bicycle exercise test until they were exhausted to measure their peak cardiovascular capacity.
A total of 40 women met the criteria for a high fitness level, of whom just one in 20 were diagnosed with dementia over the next 44 years.
There were 92 women in the medium fitness category, and around one in four of this group went on to have the condition.
Adjusting for people who died before they could ever develop the condition, the dementia risk was found to be 88 per cent lower for the fittest women.
These findings are exciting because it’s possible that improving people’s cardiovascular fitness in middle age could delay or even prevent them from developing dementia
Dr Helena Hörder, University of Gothenburg
Almost half of those who had to stop the exercise test because of high blood pressure, chest pain or other cardiovascular problems went on to get dementia also.
Midlife has long been thought to be a ‘sensitive period’ for the risk of dementia, which affects one in six people over the age of 80 and an estimated 850,000 people in Britain.
The authors say that, although their results are based on midlife fitness, it is probably never too late to start exercising.
Dr Hörder added ‘This indicates that negative cardiovascular processes may be happening in midlife that could increase the risk of dementia much later in life.’
Responding to the study published in the journal Neurology, Dr David Reynolds, chief scientific officer at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: ‘We know that exercise can improve heart health and it has also been linked with a reduced risk of dementia.
‘By working with participants over many years, this study has highlighted how fitness in mid-life can help predict dementia risk years later.
‘While studies like this can’t definitively show cause and effect, it adds to research suggesting that middle age is key time for people to take steps to promote their brain health.’
WHAT IS DEMENTIA? THE KILLER DISEASE THAT ROBS SUFFERERS OF THEIR MEMORIES
Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of neurological disorders
A GLOBAL CONCERN
Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of progressive neurological disorders, that is, conditions affecting the brain.
There are many different types of dementia, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most common.
Some people may have a combination of types of dementia.
Regardless of which type is diagnosed, each person will experience their dementia in their own unique way.
Dementia is a global concern but it is most often seen in wealthier countries, where people are likely to live into very old age.
HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE AFFECTED?
The Alzheimer’s Society reports there are more than 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK today.
It is estimated that the number of people living with dementia in the UK by 2025 will rise to over 1 million.
In the US, it’s estimated there are 5.5 million sufferers. A similar percentage rise is expected in the coming years.
As a person’s age increases, so does the risk of them developing dementia.
Rates of diagnosis are improving but many people with dementia are thought to still be undiagnosed.
IS THERE A CURE?
Currently there is no cure for dementia.
But new drugs can slow down its progression and the earlier it is spotted the more effective treatments are.
Source: Dementia UK