Highly Fit Women and Dementia

Midlife cardiovascular fitness matters.

By Shirley Archer, JD, MA
Dec 4, 2018

Middle-aged women with high cardiovascular fitness levels were almost 90% less likely to develop dementia in older age than women with moderate aerobic fitness, according to a recent study in the journal Neurology (2018; doi:
10.1212/WNL.0000000000005290).

“These findings are exciting because it’s possible that improving cardiovascular fitness in middle age could delay or even prevent [women] from developing dementia,” said lead study author, Helena Hörder, PhD, of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. “However, this study does not show cause and effect between cardiovascular fitness and dementia; it only shows 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.”

Data analysis showed that if the highly fit women developed dementia, they developed the disease at about age 90, an average of 11 years later than women who were moderately fit. Investigators used data from a sample group of women enrolled in the longitudinal Swedish Prospective Population Study of Women.

Study limitations included the small sample size (191 participants) and inclusion only of Swedish women, among other factors. More research is recommended.

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Shirley Archer, JD, MA

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