Exercise Prevents Dementia Study Shows Link Between Fitness And Cognitive Abilities

02/05/2013 12:07 pm ET

Most people know that regular exercise can help you alleviate a wide range of health concerns, everything from stroke to arthritis to certain types of cancer. But now regular exercise in middle age has been linked to helping prevent dementia later in life.

Research published February 5 in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that the most physically fit midlifers were nearly 40 percent less likely to develop dementia or Alzheimer's disease by the time they were 65 compared with their counterparts who were not as in shape.

The researchers analyzed the fitness levels of nearly 20,000 adults, mostly in their 40s and 50s, with a baseline level determined using a treadmill exercise test. The participants were patients at the Cooper Clinic in Dallas which, as part of The Cooper Institute, studies the link between exercise and better health. Researchers later went back and compared the fitness results with Medicare records for 10 years starting in 1999 to find out whether or not the participants developed dementia. By the time the participants were in their 70s and 80s, 1,659 of them had received diagnoses of a form of dementia.

Dr. Laura DeFina, medical director of research at The Cooper Institute, and the other authors of the study hope their research pushes more midlifers to exercise and improve their fitness levels.

"Physical activity changes in midlife may lead to improved fitness levels, resulting in less all-cause dementia with aging," they wrote.

A progressive brain disease, Alzheimer's is the most common cause of dementia among older people.

The new research shines a spotlight on a way for people to avoid a disease that so far can't be cured, slowed or prevented.

Another study released last year found that physical fitness also lowers the risk of dementia-related death. Research supported the idea that cardiovascular health in general improves oxygen and blood flow to all organs, including the brain.

Another study from the Journal of Neurology found that exercise helped minimize arterial plaque buildup, and that this was linked to improved performances on memory and mental acuity tests.

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