Higher levels of cardiovascular fitness can significantly reduce an adult's risk of developing dementia, according to a recent peer-reviewed study published in the journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
"Midlife Cardiovascular Fitness and Dementia: A 44-Year Longitudinal Study in Women," published online April 10, found that women with high stamina have an 88 percent lower risk of dementia than women who are considered even "moderately fit." Researchers from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden found that the average age for dementia onset is 11 years later for women with high stamina versus those with medium stamina.
"I was not surprised that there was an association, but I was surprised that it was such a strong association between the group with highest fitness and decreased dementia risk," Helena Hörder, a neurochemistry professor and the first author on the study, told CNN.
For the study, the researchers employed an ergometer-tracked cycling test to assess the stamina levels in 191 Swedish women between the age of 38 and 60. The participants' performance was measured based on how much manually adjusted weight resistance they could handle before fatiguing.
"The level that you are so exhausted that you have to interrupt the test is a measure, in watts, of your work capacity," Hörder told CNN.
The 191 women were placed into three performance-based categories: 59 in low stamina, 92 in medium stamina and 40 in high stamina.
The study had its limitations, the researchers conceded, and more diversified research is required to further assess exercise's influence on dementia-related symptoms.
"Findings are not causal, and future research needs to focus on whether improved fitness could have positive effects on dementia risk and when during the life course a high cardiovascular fitness is most important," the study said.
Alzheimer's disease, an irreversible and progressive brain disease, is the most common type of dementia, although the disorder can manifest itself through a host of neurological symptoms. Approximately 5.4 million Americans are believed to be living with Alzheimer's disease, and it is the sixth leading cause of death among all adults, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.