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Being Mentally and Physically Active in Middle Age May Reduce Risk of Dementia Later in Life

Being Mentally and Physically Active in Middle Age May Reduce Risk of Dementia Later in Life

The majority of people will develop some degree of decline in cognitive capacity as they age. If left unchecked, this decline may progress to dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. A new study has found that keeping mentally and physically active during middle age may help reduce the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s later in life.


Participants in the study included 800 women with an average age of 47 at the beginning of the study. All of them were followed for 44 years. Cognitive and physical activity levels were assessed at baseline. Cognitive activities included artistic, intellectual, manual, religious, and club. The participants were given a score in each area based on how often they participated in each cognitive activity. The scores were zero for no to low activity, one for moderate activity, and two for high activity. The highest total score possible was 10.


The participants were divided into two groups based on their total cognitive activity score. 44% of the participants had scores of zero to two and were placed in the low group. 56% of the participants had a score of three or higher and were placed in the high group.


The participants were also divided by their level of physical activity, and classified as either inactive or active. 17% of the participants were classified as inactive and 83% were classified as active. Active meant they engaged in light physical activity at least 4 hours per week, performed regular intense exercise, or engaged in competitive sports.


During the study period, 194 of the participants developed Alzheimer’s, vascular dementia, or mixed dementia. The researchers found that participants with a high level of cognitive activities were 46% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s, and 34% less likely to develop dementia overall, compared to participants with a low level of cognitive activities. Participants who were physically active were 52% less likely to develop dementia with cerebrovascular disease, and 52% less likely to develop mixed dementia, compared to participants who were inactive.


The study was conducted by researchers from The Sahlgrenska Academy at Gothenburg University. It was published online ahead of print February 20, 2019 in the journal Neurology.

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