Poor physical performance was linked with an increased risk of developing dementia in a study of individuals aged 90 and older who were followed for an average of 2.6 years.
After controlling for various factors, poor standing balance had the strongest association with dementia, followed by poor performances in a 4-meter walk test and a handgrip test.
The oldest-old, people aged 90 and older, represent the fastest growing segment of the society with the highest rates of dementia; however, many of the traditional risk factors of dementia lose or change their effect in this age group. Therefore, it is crucial that we identify age specific risk and protective factors for late-age dementia. The fact that we are able to detect impairment in physical performance two to three years before the onset of dementia suggests that poor physical performance may be a risk factor for, or an early sign of, developing late-age dementia.
A recent study conducted by the Veterans Health Administration found a strong, graded inverse association between cardiorespiratory fitness and reduction of risk of Alzheimer’s Disease. This means that the more fit a person is, the more likely that if they were to develop AD, they would develop it later.
Specifically, the researchers found that, compared with the least fit participants, the fittest were 33% less likely to develop ADRD. Similarly, the second most fit group was 26% less likely to develop ADRD, the third most fit group was 20% less likely, and the fourth most fit was 13% less likely.
There are two main factors that influence cardiorespiratory fitness: genetics and exercise. We cannot change our genetics, but we can improve our cardiorespiratory fitness through a sensible exercise program. The study also demonstrates that we don’t have to become marathon runners to reduce our risk. Even small increases in cardiorespiratory fitness can help! There are many other studies that have looked prospectively to affirm this link between physical fitness and risk of dementia and confirm that regular and recommended exercise can reduce a person’s risk of developing dementia.
The advice to everyone concerned about their risk of Alzheimer’s disease is ‘live as healthy a lifestyle as you can manage.’ There are several lifestyle measures considered beneficial. These include exercise, diet, adequate sleep, and staying mentally active and socially engaged. The strongest evidence is for exercise.