Aerobic Fitness in Middle Age May Slow Brain Shrinkage Later
A new study from the National Institute on Aging suggests that increased aerobic exercise during middle age can help preserve brain function and volume for up to 20 more years.
For more than 10 years, beginning in 1994, the team of researchers monitored 146 older adults as they engaged in treadmill tests, aerobic fitness, and MRI scans to measure any brain changes. At the beginning of the study, all patients had an average age of 69, and all were free of other cognitive issues or diseases such as Parkinson’s and dementia. They also had no history of stroke, heart disease and lung cancer -- all related to cardiovascular fitness.
The team began the study by reviewing treadmill tests to determine what a patient’s fitness level was when they were 50 years old. They found that those who were more fit at 50, later had greater volume in areas of the brain that regulate memory and perception, as well as greater white matter, which, when reduced, may signal the start of Alzheimer’s. The team believes that this slow decline may be a result of increased respiratory fitness and circulation as the person aged.
Though this research can now be added to a greater body of research connecting increased exercise with brain health, the team noted that not everyone benefits from the same amount of exercise, and that they are unsure how increased respiratory fitness acts on the brain to preserve function. However, they do believe their study is another positive step in the right direction linking exercise to a healthier state of well-being later in life.