There’s an established body of research showing exercise is beneficial for your brain and may go some way to staving off dementia but what’s been less clear is whether or not it’s the stimulation provided to your brain by exercise – if it’s in a social setting or a complex game – or the exercise itself which provides the benefit. That’s what a new Swedish study set out to find.
In the research, more than a thousand women had their cardiovascular fitness measured through a cycling test they had to undergo to exhaustion. The researchers recorded each person’s blood pressure, respiratory and heart rate during these tests. This was done in 1968 and the researchers tracked these women over 44 years to see how their health progressed, including which of the women developed dementia.
The researchers found a significant association between a woman’s fitness at midlife and her risk of dementia. Women who were considered to have “high” fitness as opposed to “medium” fitness in the study had a decreased risk of dementia of almost 90 per cent. This echoes the work of other studies. It wasn’t clear why midlife exercise can have an effect on dementia down the track, but the researchers thought it likely there were a variety of factors at work – the downstream consequences of exercise on conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes (which are themselves associated with an increased risk of dementia), as well as the positive effects exercise can have on the brain itself.
Exercise is beneficial to our health in so many ways, but you already knew that. What this study indicates is the importance of consistency – exercising (and maintaining a healthy diet) across your life to decrease your risk of dementia (and other health problems) down the track.