Researchers followed 3,559 adults for 30 years, and found that a simple question about self-rated physical fitness in midlife may reveal individuals who are at an increased risk of developing dementia.
Investigators discovered that those who reported poor self-rated physical fitness in midlife (at the average age of 50 years), were four times more likely to get dementia during the next three decades compared to those with good self-rated physical fitness.
“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,” said postdoctoral researcher Dr. Jenni Kulmala.
The association between poor self-rated physical fitness and dementia was most pronounced among noncarriers of the apolipoprotein E ε4 allele, that is, people who did not have a strong genetic susceptibility for dementia.
This suggests that people who are not prone to dementia can reduce their lifetime risk by staying in shape.
Interestingly, a strong association was also observed among people with chronic disease.
“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.
Poor self-rated fitness is known to be affected by lifestyle factors such as physical inactivity, poor mental well-being, lack of social connections, lower education, high body mass index and smoking.
Perceived poor physical fitness, therefore, integrates several unfavorable aspects of lifestyle that have all been previously linked to increased dementia risk.
Since the perception of poor physical fitness is most likely affected by different factors for different people, researchers encourage those who rate their fitness as poor to think about the factors behind this perception.
“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.
Source: Academy of Finland