Being fit in middle age linked to reduced dementia risk in later life

14 March 2018

Swedish researchers have found that middle-aged women with high levels of physical fitness have a reduced risk of developing dementia. The findings are published today in the scientific journal, Neurology.

Scientists measured the fitness of 191 Swedish women in with an average age of 50. The participants took part in a cycling test which recorded how much work they were able to do before they were physically exhausted. Researchers then assigned them into one of three groups depending on whether they had high, moderate or low levels of fitness. The volunteers were then followed up for an average of 29 years to see if they developed dementia, and a total of 44 women developed the condition.

The researchers found that having a high level of fitness at the time of testing delayed the age at which people developed dementia by 9.5 years compared to those with medium fitness.

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.

“We need to see research that builds on findings like this and drives progress towards practical, evidence-based strategies that could help people reduce their risk of dementia. Alzheimer’s Research UK is currently funding pioneering research exploring ways to help people at risk of dementia boost their physical fitness and make other brain-healthy lifestyle changes.

“Physical exercise doesn’t necessarily mean going to the gym or running a marathon, but something that can easily be fitted in as part of the normal routine, like a jog or a brisk walk with friends. Alongside regular exercise, the current best evidence to maintain good brain health as we age is to eat a balanced diet, maintain a healthy weight, not smoke, and keep blood pressure and cholesterol in check.”