Home Cardiology AHA: Midlife Fitness Equates to Better Cognition Decades Later

AHA: Midlife Fitness Equates to Better Cognition Decades Later

Tests show higher midlife fitness levels tied to greater brain volume, function decades later

THURSDAY, March 5, 2015 (HealthDay News) — People who are fit in their 40s seem to retain more brain volume two decades later and also perform better on decision-making tests, new research suggests. The findings were presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention/Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health 2015 Scientific Sessions, held from March 3 to 6 in Baltimore.

Nicole Spartano, Ph.D., of the Boston University School of Medicine, and colleagues examined data from 1,271 people who underwent exercise treadmill testing in the 1970s, when their average age was 41. In their 60s, the participants underwent magnetic resonance imaging brain scans and mental performance tests.

Those at midlife who had experienced a greater increase in heart rate or diastolic blood pressure after a few minutes of low-intensity exercise on a treadmill — signs of lower fitness levels — had smaller brain volumes later in life, Spartano and her colleagues found. Similarly, those with larger increases in blood pressure levels during low-intensity exercise performed worse on a cognition test of decision-making ability in their 60s.

Every 7.1 mm Hg rise in diastolic blood pressure and additional 8.3 beats per minute in heart rate over participants’ resting levels were equated with an additional half-year of brain aging, Spartano told HealthDay. “In elderly individuals, improvements in fitness have been shown to prevent brain aging over the short-term,” she said. “But it has not been clear whether fitness throughout adulthood has an impact on brain aging. In particular, it has not been clear how longstanding (or short-lived) an impact midlife fitness might have on late-life cognition.”

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