High Midlife Cardiovascular Fitness Could Reduce Your Risk of Dementia By Nearly 90 Percent

We are well aware that exercise promotes positive health, and has even been shown to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s.

If you have lacked motivation in the past, a new Swedish study may be just what you need to get off the couch and into a pair of running shoes.

Study Finds a Connection Between Highly-Fit Midlife Women and a Reduced Risk of Alzheimer’s


A new study, published in Neurology, found that middle age women who were highly fit were nearly 90 percent less likely to develop dementia decades later.

Following these women for 44 years, the researchers focused on highest and lowest peak workload. By observing these women on an exercise bike, the researchers recorded fitness levels. These women were instructed to ride exercise bikes for six minutes at a fast pace. Those who were able to complete the test in full displayed a lower risk of dementia compared to the women who could not complete the workout.

  • Approximately 5 percent of the women with the highest peak workload developed dementia. These women were able to ride the exercise bike the hardest over the course of six minutes.

  • In comparison, 25 percent of the women who were considered to showcase medium fitness levels later developed dementia.

  • Finally, 45 percent of the women who were unable to finish the test went on to develop dementia.

As stated by the researchers, highly fit women were able to decrease their risk of dementia by 88 percent when compared to moderately fit participants. It is also important to note that the highly fit women who did develop dementia, began to show symptoms at the age of 90 on average. When compared to the moderately fit women, symptoms did not develop in highly fit women until an average of 9.5 years later.

Although the sample size was fairly small — with only 191 women who took the initial fitness test, the results display a strong correlation. It is also important to note that all of the women studied were from Sweden, making it hard to generalize across a more diverse population.

The Importance of Exercise and Physical Activity in Relation to Your Brain

Maintaining an active lifestyle is important at any age. Offering benefits for both your physical and mental health, exercise can reduce your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, hypertension, and as discussed, dementia. Numerous studies have documented this beneficial relationship, including a study that was published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Those who performed moderate-intensity exercise were more likely to display health patterns of glucose metabolism in their brains. However, light-intensity exercise did not lead to similar benefits. The researchers found that the ideal level was at least 68 minutes of moderate activity a day. This would be equivalent to a brisk walk.

In a separate study, also published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, poor fitness was associated with the deterioration of white matter in the brain. After studying older adults, the researchers concluded that exercise may help individuals maintain positive neural health in old age.

As stated by Rong Zhang, a neurology professor at UT Southwestern’s O’Donnell Brain Institute, “Think of white matter as ‘computer cables’ that connect various parts of the brain.” As white matter deteriorates, so do executive functions. These functions include working memory, self-control, and mental flexibility.

If you are concerned about the potential early warning signs of dementia, take a proactive approach with the BrainTest® app. It is a simple and convenient way to test your current level of cognition.

How to Become More Active

The benefits of exercise are nothing new, so why is it so hard to take positive action?

There are various theories as to why this is, including our evolutionary instincts. As humans, we instinctively want to save energy. Of course, in our modern society, we no longer need to hunt and gather our food. Yet we still favor inactivity.

Others believe that it is a lack of confidence that stops non-active individuals from becoming more actively involved in sports and exercise training. Regardless of why, you can switch your focus to how.

How is it that you can become more active, starting today?

Start small and maintain high levels of motivation.

Why not take the stairs all month? Whether you are at the mall or at work, ignore the escalators. You could also begin parking as far away from your destination as possible. Instead of finding the closest possible parking spot, force yourself to take those extra steps.

During the summer months, disconnect your cable and focus on your garden. Raking leaves, pulling weeds, and mowing the lawn can help you work up a sweat. You can even get your family involved, scheduling regular walks after dinner.

The whole point of these small steps is to create a new mindset. And in turn, healthier, sustainable habits. Your new habits will become part of your regular routine, and as you become more active, you will be willing to try new things. You are never too old to learn how to swim or salsa dance, so have fun with it.

For more information, please refer to the following articles:

Krista Hillis has a B.A.Sc degree, specializing in neuroscience and psychology. She is actively involved in the mental health and caregiving community, aiming to help others. Krista is also passionate about nutrition and the ways in which lifestyle choices affect and influence the human brain.

Comments (1)
  1. George

    My relative who died of Alzheimer”s recently was married to an MIT grad and was at the best hospitals. I am not seeing meds work for dementia or Alzheimer”s yet. So far, dementia and Alzheimer”s meds made everybody worse. Took my grandmother off her dementia meds, because they made her more confused and agitated. Glad I did, because she was peaceful and happy and alert and laughing until the day she died, if confused. Rooting for Dr. Barnard. I bought Gerson”s cook book and re-bought How Not to Die cook book, time to try to increase variety. 0

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