Cardiovascular Fitness May Be A Piece of the Puzzle for Reducing Risk for Dementia
There’s a very strong connection between cardiovascular health—the health of your heart and circulatory system—and the health of your brain, so it makes sense that a longitudinal study of women indicated that those with the highest levels of cardiovascular fitness had an 88% lower risk for dementia.
About 5.4 million people in the United States are estimated to be living with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. The Swedish study involved 191 women in Sweden, 38 to 60 years old, who completed an evaluation of their cardiovascular fitness. The women’s workload was measured and they were separated into three groups: Fifty-nine were in the “low fitness” group, 92 were “medium fitness,” and 40 were “high fitness.” The women were followed for 44 years, during which time their health status was observed.
Forty four of the women (or 23%) developed dementia, and those who had to interrupt the test due to high blood pressure or abnormal echocardiogram, a measure of the electrical activity of the heart, had an even higher rate of dementia (45%). The researchers also found that the average age of dementia onset was 11 years older in the “high fitness” group than in the “medium fitness” group, and the most pronounced risk reduction was seen among those with the highest fitness.
More research is needed to determine whether similar findings would occur in a larger, more diverse group and to determine if improved fitness has positive effects on dementia risk and when in life a high fitness level is most important.
The bottom line? The Alzheimer’s Association recommends reducing your risk of cognitive decline by engaging in regular cardiovascular exercise, quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, staying socially engaged, challenging your mind by reading or playing games and, of course, taking care of your heart health.