Here’s one more reason to pull those clothes off the treadmill sitting in the corner of your bedroom and hop on for some exercise. According to a new study by the Cooper Center Longitudinal Study, researchers found that “individuals with the highest levels of cardiorespiratory fitness during middle age were significantly less likely to develop dementia in their senior years.”
How many people did they study? The study reviewed the medical history of nearly 20,000 participants and found that those who had the highest level of cardiorespiratory fitness at roughly age 50 were 36% less likely than those in the lowest quintile to get demential after the age of 65 (results found by Laura F. DeFina, MD, of the Cooper Institute in Dallas, and colleagues).
The report was published in the online Annals of Internal Medicine, and determined that the results did not appear to change if the participants “had a stroke during follow-up, nor did educational attainment appear to make a difference.”
Is there a direct link between exercise and dementia?
Researchers noted, however, that the research did not conclusively prove that fitness can prevent early onset of dementia, but they are quick to point out the research does provide a strong causal connection.
“Physical activity seems to be a reasonable prescription for dementia prevention,” wrote Mary Sano, PhD, of Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, given the weight of evidence to which the current study adds.
Another reason this could also be true is that physical fitness is known to decrease an individual’s chances of acquiring other conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension, which can increase the risk of dementia too.
Researchers also state they hope to complete future studies which will help them determine how much physical activity is needed for dementia prevention and how to modify fitness levels to their optimum level for brain health. Other doctors claim that even if they are not sure whether there is a direct link between fitness and dementia, the discussion is important for doctors to have with their patients.
Other doctors are concerned that while the benefits of physical activity and fitness are familiar to everybody, especially the benefits for cardiovascular health, some doctors have not done as good a job of clearly articulating how exercise could be beneficial for brain health.
Another dementia expert, David Geldmacher, MD, of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, told MedPage Today, “Many patients will [say] that, ‘Well, it’s not so bad if I die of a heart attack,’ but they fear Alzheimer’s disease very much. So knowing that fitness can reduce the Alzheimer risk may give them further motivation to follow through with an exercise and fitness plan.”
Researchers did admit, however, that much of their data was taken from a largely white, affluent, and healthy population represented in the Cooper Center study. The information may not be as beneficial to all people who have varying lifestyles and factors not considered in this study.
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