Emerging research suggests regular physical activity in middle age appears to lessen the chance of dementia in later years.
University of Eastern Finland researchers found that those who engaged in physical activity at least twice a week had a lower risk of dementia than those who were less active. Investigators discovered the protective effects were particularly strong among overweight individuals.
Experts believe several modifiable risk factors may influence the development of dementia. But refinement of this information is essential for effective preventive interventions targeted at high-risk groups.
Leisure-time physical activity (LTPA) is particularly important due to its broader effects on health in general and cardiovascular health in particular.
Previous research has yielded inconsistent evidence on the association between LTPA and dementia, possibly because of short follow-up time, intensity of physical activity, or population characteristics such as sex, body mass index, age, or genetic risk factors of dementia.
Recent findings from the Cardiovascular Risk Factors, Aging and Incidence of Dementia (CAIDE) Study demonstrated that those who engaged in LTPA at least twice per week had lower risk of dementia in comparison to less active individuals.
Although these protective effects were observed in the entire study population, regardless of their sex or genetic risk factors, they were particularly strong among overweight and obese individuals.
Researchers also discovered staying physically active, or becoming more active, after midlife may also contribute to lowering dementia risk, especially in people who are overweight or obese at midlife.
The findings were not explained by socioeconomic background, age, sex, genetic risk factors, obesity, weight loss, general health status, or work-related physical activity.
Therefore, the results suggest that the window of opportunity for physical activity interventions to prevent dementia may extend from midlife to older ages.
Results from currently ongoing trials, such as a current Finnish multi-center trial, may give more detailed information about the type, intensity, and duration of physical activity interventions that can be used for preventing late-life cognitive decline.
This article first appeared on Psych Central on 10 April, 2014.