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Effects of Physical Fitness In Middle Age On Brain 2 Decades Later

If you haven’t yet found motivation to get moving and commit to exercising, you should definitely check out this recent study that has linked physical fitness at 40 years of age with brain shrinkage two decades later. The paper is published in the journal Neurology.


What you do at 40 years of age will affect your 60-year-old brain

When the data from about 1,100 participants of the Framingham Heart Study (an ongoing research involving thousands of participants) was analysed, the researchers found that people who were less fit at age 40 had a greater extent of brain shrinkage 20 years further down the road as opposed to those participants who were more physically fit in middle age; brain shrinkage (atrophy) implies fewer brain cells and synaptic connections of lower quality.

The experiment: Treadmill test

The participants were made to take an extensive treadmill test and MRI scan at 60 years old for the second time; they had previously gone through the same 20 years before. It is to be noted that none of them had heart disease or dementia.

From the tests, their physical fitness and heart health were evaluated. The amount of time they could stay on the treadmill before the heart rate hit 85% of their estimated maximum heart rate was determined to find the maximum amount of oxygen their body could use in one minute (denoted by VO2 max). This was compared with the typical value of generally healthy people which is between 30 and 40 millilitres of oxygen per kilogram body weight per minute (mL/kg/min). The blood pressure (BP) and increase in heart rate when exercising were also calculated.

The less physically fit in middle age had greater brain shrinkage

The findings show that those with lower VO2 max, greater heart rate increase or higher BP (variables measured when they were 40 years old) displayed greater brain shrinkage when they reached 60 years old. For every 8 mL/kg/min decrease in VO2 max, 17 beats/minute higher heart rate or 14 mm Hg higher diastolic BP during exercise, brain ageing was accelerated by one year.

Lead author Nicole Spartano explains that the brain shrinkage is, on one hand, small, but on the other, sufficiently significant to account for an increase in the risk of memory and dementia.

Start running now!

The researchers conclude that people should grow conscious of how physical fitness in middle-age might be affecting the health of the brain in later years. This study is not the first to correlate the two; previous research has demonstrated that physical exercise decreases the risk of memory loss and dementia among old people. Furthermore, a 2015 study showed that brain atrophy might be counteracted by improving fitness.

Now, are you motivated enough to get started to preserve your elderly life?!


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