In the first study of its kind, researchers from Finland suggest that an individual’s self-reported fitness level at mid-life could predict a person’s future risk of dementia. Researchers followed 3,559 adults for 30 years and found that a person’s increased risk for dementia could be predicted by a simple question about self-rated physical fitness in mid-life.
Researchers found that at the average age of 50, those who reported poor self-rated physical fitness in mid-life were four times more likely to get dementia during the next thirty years, compared to those who reported good self-rated physical fitness.
Post-doctoral researcher, Dr. Jenni Kulmala said, “Previous research has shown that self-rated health is a strong indicator of adverse health events. This is the first large population-based study investigating associations between self-rated physical fitness during the three decades from midlife to later life and dementia risk.”
However, the link between poor self-rated physical fitness and dementia was not pronounced among those who were not carrying the apolipoprotein E ε4 allele, that is, people who did not have a strong genetic susceptibility for dementia. Essentially, this means that those who are not prone to dementia can reduce their risk by staying fit. In addition, researchers found a strong association among people who had chronic diseases.
“Chronic conditions independently increase the dementia risk. Furthermore, if a person additionally feels that his or her physical fitness is poor, the risk is even higher. In terms of dementia prevention, maintaining good physical fitness seems to be especially important for people with chronic diseases,” Kulmala says.
Perceived poor physical fitness incorporated many lifestyle factors that have previously been shown to increase the risk of dementia, such as physical inactivity, poor mental well-being, lack of social connections, lower education, high body mass index and smoking.
“Increasing physical and social activity, making better dietary choices, or quitting smoking, for example, could change the rating into more positive. Individual choices that make you feel physically better may substantially decrease your future risk of developing dementia,” Kulmala says.