Swedish Study: Dementia skips fit folks!

Dodge dementia with exercise, study proves

According to a recent article in Easy Health Options, there’s now even more proof that exercise and brain health go hand in hand.

Instructor performing yoga with seniors

Want to boost your brain power? Maintain your memory? Reverse age-related brain shrinkage?

Then hop on that bike, roll out that yoga mat, dust off those weights and exercise.

But as simple as that sounds, you may be wondering how much exercise it actually takes to keep your brain healthy. More specifically, how much time do you have to put in to prevent the most dreaded of age-related diseases — dementia?

Will 30 minutes per day do the trick? Or should you shoot for an hour? Does moderate exercise count? Or do you need to get your heart pumping and brow sweating every time? So many questions!

Luckily, science finally has a solid answer for you. A recent study determined a fitness goal you can set to obliterate your dementia risk.

It’s not an easy goal. But it’s completely possible. And it’s worth achieving if you’re serious about keeping your brain sharp until the very end.

A recent study conducted at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden found that women who had a high fitness level at middle age were almost 90 percent less likely to develop dementia.

The study included 191 women who were an average age of 50. At the start of the study, these women took a bicycle physical fitness test. They biked until they were exhausted so researchers could measure their peak cardiovascular capacity.

Based on this test, 40 women had a high fitness level, 92 had a medium fitness level and 59 had a low fitness level. Researchers tracked the health of these women for the next 44 years. They tested them for dementia six times over that 44-year period, and the results were pretty amazing.

Over those 44 years, 40 women in the study developed dementia. But most of those women were in the low or medium fitness groups… 25 percent of women in the medium fitness category and 32 percent of the women in the low fitness category went on to develop the disease. But here’s where things get interesting.

Only five percent of the highly fit women developed the disease. That means women with a high fitness level were a whopping 88 percent less likely to get dementia. And the highly fit women who did get dementia, got it much later in life. Moderately fit women who developed dementia typically got it around 79 years old, but highly fit women didn’t develop the disease until 90 years old.

So, if you want to keep your brain healthy and prevent dementia, get yourself into that highly fit category!

How to gauge your fitness level

Most of us don’t get to go to a fancy research lab and have doctors gauge our fitness level for us. So we have two options…

We can go to our doctor and ask for a fitness test, or we can find a DIY way to test ourselves.

In the study, researchers measured cardiovascular fitness. One of the easiest ways to measure cardiovascular fitness at home is through a step test.

You’ll need an assistant at your side to spot you and track your measurements. You’ll also need a step or bench that’s roughly 15.75 inches tall if you’re a man and 13 inches tall if you’re a woman. You’ll also need a stopwatch and metronome, but you can download apps or find online versions of both of those.

Here’s how you get started:

  1. Face your step bench.
  2. Have your assistant start the metronome at 90 beats per minute.
  3. Start stepping up on to the step or bench (one foot, followed by the other) and down on to the floor (one foot, followed by the other), keeping up with the beat of the metronome.
  4. Make sure your assistant starts the timer or stopwatch as soon as you start stepping. The timer should be set for 5 minutes.
  5. Your assistant can help you along by saying, “Up-one, up-two. Down-one, down-two” as you step.
  6. Keep your back and legs straight when you’re standing at the top of the step. Your assistant can remind you if you start slouching.
  7. Once five minutes is up, sit down immediately.
  8. 15 seconds after completing the test, you or your assistant should count your pulse for 15 seconds. You can do that by placing two fingers on the side of your neck or on the thumb-side of your wrist.
  9. Once you’ve recorded that 15 second pulse count, you’re done! You can cool off by walking around and giving your quad and calf muscles a good stretch.

Your pulse after the step test determines your maximal oxygen consumption, a measure of your cardiorespiratory fitness.

Say you’re a 50 year old woman who weighs 140 pounds and your pulse after the step test was 35. That means your maximal oxygen consumption was 42, putting you in the excellent fitness category. Here’s a link to several charts that help you determine your fitness level based on the results of your step test.

If your fitness level isn’t very good when you take this test, don’t worry. There are plenty of ways to improve your maximal oxygen consumption and fitness level.

In fact, if you start doing aerobic exercise for at least 30 minutes every day, you’ll end up in that high fitness category in no time. And you don’t even have to go to the gym to do that. You can do housework, yardwork or anything else that gets your heart pumping.