Middle-aged women with a “high degree” of cardiovascular fitness proved to be 90% less likely to develop dementia in their golden years than those in just moderate health, according to new findings out of Sweden.
And, if the women in the study, published Wednesday in the journal Neurology, with a higher fitness level did develop the disease, it was, on average, 11 years later than their less healthy peers. These findings suggest that a higher degree of cardio health might be linked to a decreased risk of dementia, the study said, forming a direct correlation between good heart health and good brain health.
“What is good for the heart really does seem to be good for the brain also,” the study noted.
For the research, the team from the Center for Aging and Health at the University of Gothenburg looked at data of 191 local women ages 38 to 60 from 1968 to 2012. At the beginning of the trial, the middle-aged participants cycled on a stationary bike until they were exhausted and their health was monitored for the next 44 years. That initial test, the researchers said, acted as a means of predicting brain health later in life.
The study found that 32% of the women who tested on the lower end of the bike experiment developed dementia at some point during the next four decades, as did 25% of those who fell in the middle of the fitness pack. Only 5% of the women who performed the best on the stationary bike were eventually diagnosed with dementia.
The highest dementia rates in the study — 45% — were seen among the women who couldn’t finish the exercise test, leading the team to suspect that underlying cardio health issues, like high blood pressure, in the middle of a woman’s life could make her more susceptible to dementia’s symptoms later in life.
It’s not clear why this relationship may exist, the study acknowledged. The team speculated that better fitness and reduced cardiac risk factors lead to healthier weights, or that cardiovascular fitness might actually alter the structures of the brain, increasing blood flow and promoting overall health. But since there is no cure for dementia, the authors of the study do strongly suggest modifying one’s lifestyle choices and behaviors as early as possible to potentially delay or even prevent the onset of the disease.
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