Midlife Exercise May Decrease Dementia Risks, Offer Other Health Benefits

May 10, 2018 / Geriatrics / Seniors

By Dr. Michael Sheehy
Chief of Population Health and Analytics
Reliant Medical Group

Oftentimes, one of the biggest fears people have as they get older is the risk of getting dementia. Fortunately, scientists are now figuring out ways we can potentially avoid it. It turns out one of the most important methods is exercise. A 44-year-long study conducted in Sweden suggests that women who are “super fit” at age 50 are at a much lower risk of dementia as they get older than their less fit peers. In fact, the highly fit women in the study were 88% less likely to develop dementia than women who were only moderately fit. The study was published March 14th in the online issue of Neurology.

The study also found that women who were highly fit in midlife and did develop dementia were not likely to show symptoms of the disease until age 90. Women in the study who were only moderately fit during middle age and also developed dementia did so an average of 11 years earlier – at age 79.  In total, over the 44 years of this study, just five percent of the highly fit women developed dementia, compared to 32% of women with low fitness and 25% of women with moderate fitness.

Even though correlation does not automatically imply causation, the findings of this study seem truly noteworthy. The findings also correlate with a number of other studies that show that higher levels of cardiorespiratory fitness across the human lifespan offer a range of neuroprotective benefits including better cognitive function and a lower risk for dementia in old age.

Exercise produces health benefits in many important areas

In addition, one recently published health study done at the University of Birmingham and King’s College London revealed that exercise for those who are middle-aged and older prevented the loss of overall strength and muscle mass in comparison to those who did not exercise on regular basis. The study, done on male and female cyclists, also showed that fat and cholesterol levels did not increase with age as they do with most people. The benefits of the exercise performed even extended to a better functioning immune system in both men and women. All in all, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that exercise has tremendous benefits for people as they age, resulting in better overall health in a number of key areas.

It can be beneficial to start an exercise program at any age. However, before starting a new exercise regimen or increasing the intensity or duration of your regular workout, it’s a good idea to talk to your medical provider to make sure you are ready.

3 Responses

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  1. Posted by Jean

    So, I looked up this study. It involved fewer than 200 women. When they say 5 percent of the super fit group they are talking about two individuals. Nevertheless, it seems very likely that the conclusions of the study are largely valid. Let’s hope that some larger studies come along soon that support more specific recommendations about exercise frequency and intensity.

    May 23, 2018 6:34 pm Reply
  2. Posted by Jean

    How did they measure “moderately fit” versus “super fit”?

    May 23, 2018 5:34 pm Reply
    • Posted by Reliant Medical Group

      To determine fitness in the study, a cohort of 191 women with an average age of 50 performed an ergometric exercise test to gauge how many watts of energy they could generate on a stationary bicycle before reaching physical exhaustion. The maximum wattage output of each participant before “conking out” represented her peak cardiovascular capacity. When averaged, 103 watts was the bell curve peak for 50-year-old study participants. Of the 191 women who took the bicycle fitness test, 31 percent fell into the “low fitness” category marked by a maximum output of 80 watts or less. About 48 percent (98 women) fell into the “moderately fit” category and could pedal at a maximum output of between 80 to 120 watts. The “highly fit” cohort consisted of 40 women (about 21 percent) who maxed out at a peak workload of 120 watts or higher.

      May 24, 2018 11:32 am Reply

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