The Benefits of Exercise and Fitness

Woman with DumbbellsThe highly acclaimed Cooper Clinic has been following 20,000 patients’ fitness levels for the last 40 years. They recently published an article in the Annals of Internal Medicine proclaiming that fitness in the middle years of life lowers your risk of developing dementia in your senior years. The Cooper Clinic has been following these patients for evaluation of cardiovascular fitness and development of heart disease but decided to use the same data to review who, if any, developed dementia by their 70th, 75th, 80th and 85th birthdays. All participants initially were screened with exercise treadmill testing. They found that those who were the fittest were 36% less likely to be diagnosed with dementia after age 65 than the least fit.

David Geldmacher, MD, of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, told MedPage Today that the potential benefit of exercise to reduce dementia risk is worth bringing up with patients, even though recommendations for exercise are made routinely for cardiovascular health reasons. Many patients are willing to forego exercise with the belief that sudden death by a heart related illness isn’t such a bad way to expire. On the other hand the thought of living with a chronic debilitating disease like dementia is highly undesirable and exercise might be an acceptable lifestyle change to prevent that process. Knowing that fitness can reduce the Alzheimer risk may give them further motivation to follow through with an exercise and fitness plan.

In an unrelated but equally fascinating study, researchers at the Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina found that Caucasian men who participated in regular exercise at a moderate level were less likely to have prostate cancer on biopsy of suspicious areas of the prostate. If the biopsy did reveal prostate cancer the grade of the cancer tended to be lower indicating a more favorable prognosis. This study of 164 Caucasian men and 143 black men did not show any fitness protection for black men who exercised regularly. The authors went on to point out the small size of the study and the fact that the level and frequency of exercise was self-reported not measured or monitored by the research team. Other factors such as heredity, diet and lifestyle issues may be factors as well. They recommended further study to determine the exact relationship between exercise and prostate health or disease.

Both these studies strongly support the concept that regular exercise of a moderate level probably has strongly favorable influences in multiple areas of health. I will continue to urge my patients to get some form of regular exercise that they enjoy on a daily basis while the researchers confirm the long term benefit of regular exercise and fitness.