New study finds middle-aged women with a high level of fitness are 88% less likely to develop dementia

Your stamina, defined as your ability to sustain prolonged physical or mental effort, can now be linked to your risk of developing dementia, according to a new study.

The 44-year-long study was published in the Medical Journal of Neurology earlier this week, and found that middle-aged women with a high degree cardiovascular fitness were less likely to develop dementia in later life than women who had a moderate fitness level.

The study looked at the data from 191 Swedish women, aged between 38 and 60 years. When the study started in 1968, all of the women took part in a cardiovascular fitness test using a stationary bike, in which they had to cycle until they felt exhausted. From this the researchers divided the women into three groups – “low fitness”, “medium fitness” and “high fitness”. 44 years later, researchers found that these fitness test scores could help predict whether the women would be diagnosed with dementia later in life.

The highest rates of dementia were found in the women who could not complete the exercise test. 45% of these women went on to develop dementia later in life. In the group of highly fit women, only 5% went on to develop dementia. The study also found that in the group of highly fit women, the age of dementia onset was delayed by 9.5 years, compared to 5 years in the medium fitness group.

Dr Tim Shakespeare, Research Information Manager at Alzheimer’s Society told Runner’s World: “There are 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK, and set to be over 1 million by 2025, so finding ways to prevent people developing the condition is key. This study doesn’t prove that taking up exercise will prevent you from developing dementia, but it does add to the evidence that exercise could reduce your risk.”

“The reduction in risk the researchers saw is bigger than in some previous studies looking at exercise and dementia, maybe because they took a different approach, looking at how physically fit people are, rather than how much they weigh or how much physical activity they say they do. While the results are promising, and provide much-needed motivation to jump on the exercise bike, it’s important to bear in mind the number of people in this study was small and it only involved women, so it’s not clear if we’d see the same results in men.”

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