Think exercising only builds muscle? New research says a regular exercise habit may help to boost brain size too, particularly when done during midlife.
The research, published in the current issue of the journal Neurology, found that brains shrunk less in people who had a regular workout habit. Brains naturally shrink over time as we age. It’s a driving factor in cognitive decline and dementia.
The researchers looked at more than 1,500 people who did not have heart disease or dementia. The subjects performed a treadmill test at around age 40 and again 20 years later, along with MRI scans of their brains. And the researchers noted a strong correlation between decreased brain size in the follow-up tests and a consistent lack of exercise.
For the subjects who maintained healthy hearts and cholesterol levels over the course of the study but did not exercise, they saw the equivalent of one year of expedited brain aging. Those who did develop heart problems and high cholesterol and maintained poor exercise habits saw two years of accelerated brain aging.
"We found that poor physical fitness in midlife was linked to more rapid brain aging two decades later," study author Nicole Spartano, a postdoctoral fellow at the Boston University School of Medicine said of the research. "This message may be especially important for people with heart disease or at risk for heart disease, in which we found an even stronger relationship between fitness and brain aging."
The researchers’ findings point to the ever-increasing benefits of exercise at every age. "From other studies, we know that exercise training programs that improve fitness may increase blood flow and oxygen to the brain over the short term," Spartano said. "Over the course of a lifetime, improved blood flow may have an impact on brain aging and prevent cognitive decline in older age."
image: army medicine
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