Dementia is a syndrome affecting memory, cognition, and behavior of the affected person. It is a common symptom of neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, vascular diseases etc. Neurodegenerative dementia is related to aging and is commonly seen in elderly men and women.
It has been observed that women are at a higher risk of developing age-related dementia as compared to men. (1) Men are more likely to suffer from dementia due to specific reasons, such as vascular causes, Parkinson’s disease, etc. than in women. (1)
Different pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatments are used for a long time to overcome the distressing symptoms of dementia only with a little relief.
Recently, the American Academy of Neurology published a study that showed physical exercise and fitness in middle-aged women helps in improving the cardiovascular health and subsequently, functions of the brain. Physical fitness in middle-age helps in delaying and/or preventing age-related dementia by up to 90% in women.(2) The study analyzed the cardiovascular health of women on the basis of an exercise test.
Study on dementia in middle-aged women
The study included 191 middle-aged women in their fifties whose cardiovascular health was measured using a bicycle exercise test at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. Women were made to exercise until they were completely exhausted. The average workload was taken as 103 watts. Out of 191, 40 women touched the measures of high fitness (120 watts and higher), 92 women reached medium fitness mark while 52 women could make up to 80 watts workload or had to stop exercising due to high blood pressure, chest pain, etc. This was considered as a low fitness mark.
Of the total number of women participating in the study, 44 developed dementia during the period of follow up. Participants were tested for dementia and their follow-up was recorded six times during the next 44 years. In this period, dementia was detected in 5% of highly fit women, 25% women from medium fitness category and 32% from low fitness group. Out of the women who were not able to continue exercising during the test, 45% developed dementia in just the next 10 years. The study also suggested that women who were highly fit in their middle age developed dementia 11 years later as compared to moderately fit women.
The study, however, shows only the association between cardiovascular health and brain and does not show the relation of cause and effect on both the systems. Additionally, the fitness of only a small number of women was tested at a time and only once in their lifetime.
This study concludes that abnormal changes in cardiovascular system occurring in middle age are high-risk factors for harmful effects on the brain in later life. Further study can help in determining the age of maximum fitness and other positive factors to decrease the risk or prevent dementia.
Ott A, Breteler MM, van Harskamp F, Stijnen T, Hofman A. Incidence and risk of dementia. The Rotterdam Study. Am J Epidemiol. 1998 Mar 15; 147(6):574-80.
Hörder H, Johansson L, Guo X, Grimby G, Kern S, Östling S, Skoog I. Neurology. 2018 Apr 10; 90(15):e1298-e1305. Epub 2018 Mar 14.