Women who were highly fit when they were in mid-life are nearly 90% less likely to get dementia as seniors, a new Swedish study says.
Researchers conducted initial exercise tests on middle-aged women, and followed them for 44 years. Results showed that while those who were physically fit and those who were not lived just as long, the women who could ride an exercise bike at a fast pace for six minutes in the initial test had a much lower risk of developing dementia than those who could not perform, USA Today reports.
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. Only 5% of the women who were the fittest developed dementia, compared to 25% in the medium fitness group, and 45% in those who were unable to do the biking exercise. Overall, the women who were highly fit decreased their dementia risk by as much as 88%.
The handful of fit women who did develop dementia showed symptoms at90 years old on average – 11 years later than those who were moderately fit.
Ingmar Skoog, senior author on the study and a psychiatry professor at The University of Gothenburg in Sweden, said,
I’m very surprised that the finding was so strong. It really shows the importance of exercise.
The study was limited to a small group of just 191 women who took the initial fitness test. In addition, all the women were Swedish, meaning the conclusions might be limited and cannot be generalized to a more diverse group. However, it does emphasize how important maintaining a healthy lifestyle is, especially as people grow older.
The Alzheimer’s Association is backing one of several lifestyle studies aimed at determining how exercise and other life changes affect dementia risks. The US POINTER study will offer elderly, at-risk adults a series of lifestyle interventions to see if these can help lower the chances of getting Alzheimer’s.
The study was published in the journal Neurology.