Can Physical Fitness Fight Dementia?

Charles P. Vega, MD


April 13, 2018

Hello. I'm Dr Charles Vega, and I am a clinical professor of family medicine at the University of California at Irvine. Welcome to Medscape Morning Report, our 1-minute news story for primary care.

A new study[1] has found that high levels of cardiovascular exercise can decrease the risk for dementia by nearly 90%, at least in middle-aged women.

The study began in 1968. Investigators measured maximal cardiovascular fitness of 191 participants 38 to 60 years of age for up to 44 years. Forty met criteria for high fitness, 92 were classified as medium fit, and 59 as low. Peak cardiovascular capacity was measured by physician-supervised stepwise-increased ergometer cycling testing to the point of exhaustion.

Subsequent examinations of dementia incidence were performed six times. Compared with women who were moderately fit in midlife, those with high fitness levels had an 88% lower risk of developing dementia. When the highly fit women developed dementia, they did so an average of 11 years later than women who were moderately fit. That's age 90 versus age 79.

Although more studies are needed, these findings are promising and once again encourage physicians to advise cardiovascular exercise to all patients.


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