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News for Chapel Hill: The Best Way to Stave Off Dementia for Women is to Move

July 19, 2016

A landmark study done at the University of Melbourne has found that over all other factors, daily physical activity of any sort is the best way to stave off dementia. Nearly two-thirds of all cases of dementia occur in women. Although many things can help to prevent dementia, the best is clearly physical activity and the earlier women start doing it, the better. The study also found that physical activity gives women a better memory in older age. The study leader, Dr. Cassandra Szoeke, a neurologist and associate professor, says that the implications are so powerful that she has increased her daily activities and is focusing less on her weight.

Four hundred women between 45-55 were followed over 20 years where their lifestyle factors such as diet, education, marital status, employment status, children, physical activity and smoking were studied. They also studied their physical factors such as cholesterol, height, weight, BMI and blood pressure. The study found that the most powerful driver of good brain health was regular physical activity. Those who remained active over the course of their life did best. They discovered that exercise is cumulative, that how much and how often you exercise adds up over your life. If you start to exercise later in life, you could miss some improvement on cognition, but even if you start late, you can make up for lost time.

Most studies are done on people over age 60 because the risk of dementia doubles every five years over age 65. This was the first study that looked at what could be done from age 45 to improve memory. Many women want to protect themselves from dementia, but there are pages of information listing every adverse effect, but many are only examined independently without considering other interactions. The study found that all the factors are inter-related, but if physical activity is the main factor they found that decreased the chances for dementia. Intervention is the best choice even if it is later in life.

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