Women with high physical fitness in midlife are nearly 90 percent less likely to develop dementia decades later compared with their counterparts who are just moderately fit.

Dementia In Highly Fit And Moderately Fit Women

When these highly fit women did develop the neurological disease, they do so at a later age. They tend to be diagnosed of the disease at an average of 11 years later than those who are moderately fit.

The findings of the study mean that while moderately fit women may start to show signs of the neurological disease at 79 years old, the extremely fit women may develop dementia at 90 years old.

44-Year Study On Physical Fitness And Dementia

At the start of the study, 191 women between 38 and 60 years old were asked to cycle on a stationary bike until they were exhausted.

After 44 years, study researcher Helena Hörder from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, and colleagues found that the fitness test scores helped predict the odds of the women in getting diagnosed with dementia later in life.

Hörder and colleagues found that 32 percent of the women who had low score on the exercise test developed dementia during the study period. The dementia rate was 25 percent in those with medium fitness score and 5 percent in those with high fitness score.

The highest dementia rate was seen in those who started the exercise test but were not able to complete it. Forty-five percent of women in this group went on to develop dementia within four decades.

Cardiovascular Fitness

The researchers think that some cardiovascular processes in midlife may have influenced the women's odds of developing dementia later in life.

"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," Hörder said.

Physical Fitness And Brain Health

The researchers said that the association between physical fitness and development of dementia in the study may not be causal, albeit many studies have linked physical exercise and brain health.

A study published in January 2018, suggests that aerobic exercise may help delay and improve symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia. A 2016 study also showed that exercise can help slow down brain aging by 10 years. Dementia is an age-related condition that more commonly affects people over 65 years old.

"A high cardiovascular fitness in midlife was associated with a decreased risk of subsequent dementia. Promotion of a high cardiovascular fitness may be included in strategies to mitigate or prevent dementia," researchers wrote in their study, published Thursday in Neurology.

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