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Physically fit women are less likely to develop dementia

Women with high physical fitness in middle age are nearly 90 percent less likely to develop dementia decades later, compared to women who were moderately fit, according to a new study. The study measures the cardiovascular fitness of women based on an exercise test. When the very fit women did develop dementia, they developed the disease on average 11 years later than women who were moderately fit, or at age 90 instead of age 79.

For the study, 191 women with an average age of 50 took a cycling exercise test until they were exhausted to measure their maximum cardiovascular capacity. The average peak load was measured at 103 Watts. A total of 40 women met the criteria for a high fitness level, which is 120 watts or higher. In total, there were 92 women in the moderate fitness category; and 59 women were in the low fitness category, defined as a peak load of 80 watts or less, or they had stopped their exercise tests because of high blood pressure, chest pain, or other cardiovascular problems.

Over the next 44 years, the women were tested for dementia six times. At that time, 44 of the women developed dementia. Five percent of very fit women developed dementia, compared with 25 percent of moderately fit women and 32 percent of low-fit women. The very fit women were 88 percent less likely to develop dementia than the moderately fit women. Among the women who had to stop the exercise test because of problems, 45 percent developed dementia decades later.

“This indicates that there may be negative cardiovascular processes in middle age that could increase the risk of dementia later in life,” said Hörder.