People Who Are More Physically Fit Have a Lower Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease

A recent study found that people who are more physically fit are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those who are less than physically fit. The results of this analysis were released on February 27, and will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 74th Annual Meeting.

In this study, researchers assessed 649,605 military veterans in the Veterans Health Administration database. The average age of the population of interest was 61 years of age, and none of the participants’ had Alzheimer’s at baseline.

Physical fitness, or in this context cardiorespiratory fitness, was determined, and the study subjects were divided into five groups, from least fit to most fit. The investigators determined were determined by how well participants performed on a treadmill. The physical fitness test measured exercise capacity, the highest amount of physical exertion a person can sustain.

According to the results, participants with the lowest level of fitness developed Alzheimer’s at a rate of 9.5 cases per 1,000 person-years, juxtaposed to 6.4 cases per 1,000 person-years for the most fit group. After adjusting factors that may impact the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, the results showed that people in the most fit group were 33% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those in the least fit group.

“One exciting finding of this study is that as people’s fitness improved, their risk of Alzheimer’s disease decreased—it was not an all-or-nothing proposition,” said study author Edward Zamrini, MD, of the Washington VA Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and a member of the American Academy of Neurology via a press release. “So people can work toward making incremental changes and improvements in their physical fitness and hopefully that will be associated with a related decrease in their risk of Alzheimer’s years later.”


“The idea that you can reduce your risk for Alzheimer’s disease by simply increasing your activity is very promising, especially since there are no adequate treatments to prevent or stop the progression of the disease,” Zamrini said. “We hope to develop a simple scale that can be individualized so people can see the benefits that even incremental improvements in fitness can deliver.”