Health experts agree that lifestyle plays an important role in whether or not a person develops dementia. Two recent scientific studies further support evidence that living a healthy, active life and being physically fit can reduce the risk of developing dementia in later life.
An English study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society in March 2018 determined that adults with a slower walking speed are more likely to develop dementia as they age.
The study looked at 3,932 adults aged 50 or older who lived in England. The researchers assessed whether changes in cognition and walking speed may have an interactive effect on dementia risk. They recorded participants’ walking speeds between 2002 and 2005 and followed the participants until 2015 to monitor the onset of dementia.
Between 2005 and 2015, 289 participants developed dementia. The researchers concluded that “…those with a slower walking speed were at greater risk of developing dementia. Individuals who experienced a greater decline in walking speed were also at greater risk.”
Another study, published in the journal Neurology also in March, proved that women with higher physical fitness at middle age were 88% less likely to develop dementia than those with low or moderate fitness levels.
The study began in 1968 by enlisting 191 Swedish women with an average age of 50 who were asked to take a cycling test to determine their cardiovascular fitness. The study followed the women until 2012 and during this time, 44 of them were diagnosed with dementia. Only 5% of the women who displayed the highest fitness in 1968 developed dementia, whereas 25% of the moderately fit women and 32% of the least fit women were diagnosed with the condition.
When the highly fit women did develop dementia, it was later in life, around 90 years of age as opposed to 79 when it impacted the less fit women.
“These findings are exciting because it’s possible that improving people’s cardiovascular fitness in middle age could delay or even prevent them from developing dementia,” said study author Dr. Helena Hörder of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. “However, this study does not show cause and effect between cardiovascular fitness and dementia, it only shows an association. More research is needed to see if improved fitness could have a positive effect on the risk of dementia, and also to look at when during a lifetime a high fitness level is most important.”
Dementia is a progressive condition for which there is no cure, but these studies show that preventative measures taken earlier in life may reduce or delay onset.
According to the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada, 564,000 Canadians are living with dementia with 16,000 of those being under the age of 65. There are 25,000 new cases diagnosed each year and it’s expected that in 15 years, 937,000 Canadians will suffer from dementia.