Being physically fit into your middle age definitely has its perks: Better sleep, muscle strength, heart health, and even mental performance. And now, a new study shows that staying in shape in your 40s might even help protect your brain from shrinking later on in life.
Researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine found an association between brain tissue volume at age 60 and physical fitness levels in a person’s 40s. Specifically, people in their 40s who had lower fitness levels or had a higher rise in diastolic blood pressure (the lower number in a blood pressure reading) or an higher heart rate after spending a few minutes on a slower-moving treadmill (2.5 miles an hour) were more likely to have smaller brain tissue volume at age 60.
Researchers explained that when someone is not very physically fit, his or her blood pressure and heart rate will be much higher in response to just low levels of exercise, compared with someone who is physically fit.
What this might have to do with the brain: “Small blood vessels in the brain are vulnerable to changes in blood pressure and can be damaged by these fluctuations,” Nicole L. Spartano, PhD, a postdoctoral colleague at the Boston University School of Medicine, said in a statement. She also stated “vascular damage in the brain can contribute to structural changes in the brain and cognitive losses.” The investigation focused on determining whether exaggerated blood pressure fluctuations during exercise were related to later structural changes in the brain.
The study included 1,271 people who were part of the Framingham Offspring Study and underwent the treadmill testing at an average age of 41. Then, when they were 60, on average, they all underwent MRI brain scans and cognitive testing.
In addition to finding the association with brain tissue volume, the researchers found that people whose diastolic blood pressure increased more during the treadmill test did worse on the cognitive testing (which examined decision-making functioning) when they were 60. They also found an association between higher resting systolic blood pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading) at age 40 and a greater volume of white matter hyper intensity, which they said is indicative of blood-flow loss that occurs with aging.
So keep your brain healthy Acadiana, exercise frequently, eat healthy, and keep fitness first!