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To Lower Your Dementia Risk, Rev Up Your Workouts

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Many population studies have linked physical activity to better thinking and memory skills and a decreased risk of dementia. Adding to those findings is a recent Swedish study at the University of Gothenburg showing just how important it is to achieve a high level of fitness.

The study followed 191 women with an average age of 50 for more than 40 years. After compiling and analyzing all data, scientists concluded that women with higher fitness levels were 88 percent less likely to develop dementia than women with average fitness. The highly fit group also was able to delay onset of dementia by about 11 years — at age 90 rather than age 79.

Women in the study with lower fitness had a 41 percent higher risk of developing dementia than women with average fitness.

Neurologist Mark Friedman, DO, of the Clinical Neuroscience Institute, comments, “Frequent aerobic activity increases blood flow to the brain, but it may also reverse risk factors for neurovascular disease like diabeteshypertension and high cholesterol.”

Poor circulation in the brain due to neurovascular disease is a leading cause of dementia, a condition that causes memory loss and thinking problems. Alzheimer’s disease is the other main type of dementia. Factors such as diet, genetics and lifestyle also have an impact on who develops dementia.

Dr. Friedman suggests brisk walking, swimming and biking for cardiovascular benefits, plus yoga and strength training for overall conditioning.

Increase Your Fitness Level

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Women in the Swedish study were tested on stationary bikes, with the highest performers pedaling longer and harder.

To achieve a high fitness level, Dr. Friedman recommends “at least a 20-minute workout three to five times a week, with aerobic exercise and light to moderate strength training.”

Dr. Friedman suggests brisk walking, swimming and biking for cardiovascular benefits, plus yoga and strength training for overall conditioning.

“Don’t do vigorous exercise right off the bat if you’re not used to it,” he cautions. “Have a doctor make sure you’re in good health.”

Although the Swedish study focused on women ages 38 to 60, Dr. Friedman conjectures that being very fit strengthens brains in men and women of all ages. “The benefits may not be as dramatic, but if you’re going with the theory that a high level of fitness reduces risk factors, it will help at any age,” he says.

As always, check with your doctor before starting or significantly increasing a fitness program.



Source: Mark Friedman, DO, Clinical Neuroscience Institute; Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation; Alzforum

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