While it’s true that exercise plays a vital role in weight loss and staying fit, working out appears to help your brain as well.
Take the recent study published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. Researchers found that women who were “highly fit” were nearly 90 percent less likely to develop dementia decades later. This was in comparison to women who were only moderately fit.
While the study doesn’t prove a cause and effect relationship – that’s not how the study was designed – it could give you that extra incentive you need to wake up extra early before work and exercise.
The study also found that when these highly fit women did develop dementia, they were much older. They developed dementia an average of 11 years later – at age 90 — than women who were only moderately fit.
“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,” said study author Helena Hörder, PhD, of the University of Gothenburg in Gothenburg, Sweden. “However, this study does not show cause and effect between cardiovascular fitness and dementia, it only shows an association. More research is needed to see if improved fitness could have a positive effect on the risk of dementia and also to look at when during a lifetime a high fitness level is most important.”
So, what does it mean to be “highly fit”?
In the study, women were considered highly fit by their peak cardiovascular capacity. Women in the study took a bicycle exercise test until they were exhausted to measure their cardiovascular fitness. Some of the women couldn’t finish the test. Among the women who had to stop the exercise test, 45 percent developed dementia decades later. “This indicates that negative cardiovascular processes may be happening in midlife that could increase the risk of dementia much later in life,” Hörder said in a news release from the AAN.
If you don’t think you’re highly fit, but fall more into the moderately fit range, your brain may still benefit. After following the women for 44 years, researchers found that 5 percent of the highly fit women developed dementia, compared to 25 percent of moderately fit women and 32 percent of the women with low fitness.
The highly fit women were 88 percent less likely to develop dementia than the moderately fit women.