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Your Dementia Risk Is Linked to Your Fitness Level, Study Says

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Fitting in a workout might be almost as stressful as your actual job — but a new study suggests it just might be the thing you need to ward off dementia, a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life.

The research, published this week in Neurology Medical Journal, found that women with high cardiovascular fitness, or high stamina, had an 88 percent lower risk of dementia than women who were moderately fit. Conducted by researchers from Sweden’s University of Gothenburg, the research studied a group of 191 middle-aged women, ranging from ages 38 to 60. The women first did a cardio exercise, and based on their exhaustion levels were assigned to a fitness level: low fitness, medium fitness, and high fitness. Over a period of 44 years, from 1968 to 2012, the researchers checked in with the women to see how their minds progressed.

While 23 percent of the overall group of women developed dementia, those among the low fitness group experienced dementia at a rate of 45 percent. Those among the high fitness group who did experience dementia delayed the onset by around 10 or so years compared to the medium fitness group and overall, experienced a 88-percent decrease in risk for the disease development.

"I was not surprised that there was an association, but I was surprised that it was such a strong association between the group with highest fitness and decreased dementia risk," said Helena Hörder, first author on the study and a professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Neurochemistry at the University of Gothenburg, according to CNN.

There are still flaws with the study — including its lack of diversity and the small sample size but — many researchers believe this is an important finding to help understand dementia risk in the long term. While the study does not conclude exercise is a definite prevention method to the onset of dementia, it does show an important correlation to the disease definitely worth noting.

Dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, is not a specific disease but a combination of gradual, progressive symptoms that result in severe and debilitating mental decline that interferes with daily life. There are many types of dementia, although the most discussed is Alzheimer’s, a condition in which a protein disrupts the brain’s communication. As it stands, dementia disproportionately affects women on a global scale; in the United States alone, two-thirds of the sufferers of dementia are women.

While we all know exercise is good for us, protecting our mental health in the long run is yet another persuasive reason to get off the couch and get moving. After all, you could be benefitting yourself —and your brain — for years to come.

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