Researchers have found a link between poor exercise capacity in middle age and increased brain shrinkage 20 years later.
As people age, certain brain regions decrease in volume, resulting in a decline in cognitive capacity. This extent to which this occurs is highly variable between individuals and can be influenced by a wide range of factors – including one’s level of physical fitness in middle age, according to a new study.
The Experiment goal: to determine how differences in participants’ cardiovascular fitness, blood pressure, and heart rate might affect their brain size later in life.
Duration of experiment: Spanning a period of two decades.
How many people were studied? Over 1,000 people enrolled in the Framingham Heart Study, with an average age of 40 at the start of the experiment.
The first phase of the study profiled in journal of Neurology took place between 1979 and 1983, during which time participants were recruited to perform a running task on a treadmill while researchers monitored their heart rate and blood pressure in order to calculate their exercise capacity. This provides a measure of the maximum rate at which the body is able to consume oxygen.
Study findings: The study authors report that a reduction of 8 millilitres of oxygen per kilogram of body mass in baseline exercise capacity corresponded to one additional year of brain shrinkage at the end of the two decades.
Those who had a higher heart rate at the start of the experiment being most likely to exhibit accelerated brain shrinkage later in life.
Though this reduction in size was noted across the brain, it was found to be most pronounced in the frontal lobe. This is significant since degeneration in this part of the brain is often associated with dementia, suggesting a possible link between poor cardiovascular fitness in middle age and greater cognitive decline in old age.
For a full article please go to iflscience.com.
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