Greater Fitness Means Lower Dementia Risk in Women, Study Says

Premier Health Now

It’s no surprise that being fit is good for mind and body, but USA Today reported on a Swedish study of middle-aged women that shows just how important it is to achieve a high level of fitness.

Using research spanning more than 40 years, scientists concluded that women with higher fitness levels were 88 percent less likely to develop dementia than women with average fitness. They also noted that women with lower fitness had a 41 percent higher risk of developing dementia than women with average fitness.

Premier Health Now asked neurologist Mark Friedman, DO, of the Clinical Neuroscience Institute to comment on the dramatic results and how to achieve a high level of fitness.

“Frequent aerobic activity increases blood flow to the brain, but it may also reverse risk factors for neurovascular disease like diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol,” he says. Poor circulation in the brain due to neurovascular disease is a leading cause of dementia, a condition that causes memory loss and thinking problems. Alzheimer’s disease is the other main type of dementia.

To achieve a high fitness level, he recommends “at least a 20-minute workout three to five times a week, with aerobic exercise and light to moderate strength training.” Dr. Friedman suggests brisk walking, swimming and biking for cardiovascular benefits, plus yoga and strength training for overall conditioning.

“Don’t do vigorous exercise right off the bat if you’re not used to it,” he cautions. “Have a doctor make sure you’re in good health.”

Although the Swedish study focused on women ages 38 to 60, Dr. Friedman conjectures that being very fit strengthens brains in men and women of all ages. “The benefits may not be as dramatic, but if you’re going with the theory that a high level of fitness reduces risk factors, it will help at any age,” he says.

As always, check with your doctor before starting or significantly increasing a fitness program.