What if you learned that there’s one lifestyle change you can make that could dramatically reduce your likelihood of developing dementia? A 44-year long Swedish study, just described in the journal Neurology, revealed some truly extraordinary results that may provide at least preliminary evidence of that “silver bullet” in the battle against cognitive decline. The research study found that women with higher physical fitness levels were almost 90 percent less likely to suffer cognitive impairment than women of average fitness levels. That’s an astonishing reduction in dementia risk!
This article we discovered recently in Time Magazine describes this breakthrough study. “Many factors contribute to dementia,” Time reported, “some of which are within your control, and others that are not. In the latest study published in Neurology, researchers focused on one thing that people may be able to do to lower their risk of developing dementia later in life: staying fit.”
The study, conducted by the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, tracked 1,500 women over the course of 44 years. The women provided detailed information on their physical activity levels and took regular cognitive tests. This large sample size, long evaluation period, and high level of detail made the scope of this test unprecedented. Another article describing the Swedish study, this one on the Australian website Wellbeing, explained that “most [dementia] studies are conducted on people over 60 years of age and very few have a follow up of over 20 years.” This study began with women who were aged between 38 to 60 years old, first examining them in 1968, with subsequent evaluations in 1974, 1980, 1992, 2000, 2005, and 2009. The data, said Time, showed that “women with higher fitness levels were 88 percent less likely to develop dementia compared to women with average fitness. Women with lower fitness had a 41 percent higher risk of developing dementia than women with average fitness.”
The crystal-clear results of the long-term study amazed even the experts. “I was very surprised that high fitness was so protective,” one of the study authors said, “and that so few developed dementia in the high fitness group.” Results so dramatic should cause readers who are determined to do all they can to prevent cognitive decline to ask one question: what lifestyle changes do I need to make now to lower my dementia risk?
For starters, Time reports, “fitness” is not the same as “exercise.” “Higher levels of physical activity don’t necessarily translate into improved fitness,” the study reveals. Instead of merely measuring amounts of exercise, the Swedish study went further and evaluated the test group’s cardiovascular fitness, to determine “how well the circulation of blood is feeding the heart and the brain.” As the study author explained, “If the small blood vessels and circulation in the heart are okay, then the brain is also affected in a positive way by good small vessel circulation.” The result is a healthier brain that appears less prone to cognitive decline.
“Current recommendations suggest at least 30 minutes of exercise at least two or three times a week, until people feel a little tired but not exhausted,” Time advises. “For people who are not active, that could mean starting out with shorter sessions of 10 or 15 minutes, but getting 30 minutes of exercise total in a day.” A great place to start is with brisk walking on flat surfaces, and as that becomes easier, include some routes that require walking up hills. “As you become more fit, you can include more intense interval training that intersperses a few minutes of intense activity with a few minutes of stretching or less intense exercise,” Time advises. Strength training and muscle-building exercises are also recommended and have shown to have a positive impact on cognitive health.
Clearly, the earlier someone starts on a fitness regimen, the greater the benefits – but the important thing is to start, no matter what your age or state of health. (You’ll want to talk with your physician before beginning an exercise program, even a modest one.) The study appeared to suggest that by the time a person reaches midlife, the benefits of good fitness on brain health seem to become more pronounced. “More research is needed to pinpoint when during midlife the fitness benefits start accruing to reduce dementia risk,” said Time, “and also whether improving fitness can actually slow or prevent dementia.” But the good news is that even a genetic predisposition toward dementia doesn’t mean you’re powerless against the threat of cognitive impairment. Good fitness can help lower the risk of a whole host of diseases.
Physical fitness is certainly important – but how’s your retirement fitness? Too many people think they’re well-prepared for retirement because they have a basic financial plan, only to learn the hard way that their so-called “plan” is woefully inadequate when a crisis strikes or their health (or that of a loved one) starts to deteriorate. They can quickly find themselves unable to cope with unexpected medical bills. This triggers a housing crisis when they can no longer stay in the home they’ve lived in. In this vulnerable atmosphere, legal problems and contentious family dynamics can suddenly arise. Is there a remedy to this gloomy predicament? The answer is yes: our prescription is a LifePlan from AgingOptions. This uniquely comprehensive plan weaves together your financial, medical, housing, legal and family plans into one seamless strategy that allows you to protect your assets in retirement, avoid becoming a burden to those you love, and escape the trap of being forced against your will into institutional care.
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(originally reported at www.time.com and www.wellbeing.com.au)