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Exercise Could Prevent Cognitive Decline

Cardiovascular exercise, which has been shown to help our bodies, may also protect our minds, according to new research.

Researchers from the University of Montreal and its affiliated Institut universitaire de gératrie de Montréal Research Centre, found that the exercise seems to protect people from cognitive impairment as they age. “Our body’s arteries stiffen with age, and the vessel hardening is believed to begin in the aorta, the main vessel coming out of the heart, before reaching the brain. Indeed, the hardening may contribute to cognitive changes that occur during a similar time frame,” explained Claudine Gauthier, first author of the study.

“We found that older adults whose aortas were in a better condition and who had greater aerobic fitness performed better on a cognitive test. We therefore think that the preservation of vessel elasticity may be one of the mechanisms that enables exercise to slow cognitive aging.”

In the study, the investigators analyzed 31 people between the ages of 18 and 30 and 54 participants between 55 and 75. None of the participants had physical or mental health issues that could influence the outcome. They were given a brief, intensive workout to perform as well as a cognitive-ability measure known as the Stroop test. They also underwent three MRI scans: one that evaluated blood flow to the brain, one that measured brain activity while they took the Stroop test and one that examined the physical state of their aorta.

The results showed age-related declines in cardiorespiratory fitness and “executive function” as well as a positive link between aerobic fitness and brain function.

“This is first study to use MRI to examine participants in this way,” Gauthier said. “It enabled us to find even subtle effects in this healthy population, which suggests that other researchers could adapt our test to study vascular-cognitive associations within less healthy and clinical populations.”

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