The American Heart Association presented results of new research suggesting that people with poor physical fitness in their 40s may undergo accelerated brain aging.
Yes, poor fitness may lead to lower brain volumes by the time a person reaches age 60.
Uh-oh...you don't want a brain that's down a quart!
In the longitudinal study, researchers reviewed and then updated data taken from a group of individuals who have been followed for over three decades.
The study group included a subset of 1,271 participants from the Framingham Offspring Study who had participated in exercise treadmill testing in the 1970s, when their average age was 41.
Starting in 1999, when their average age was 60, they underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of their brains as well as cognitive tests.
The participants did not have heart disease or cognitive problems at the beginning of the study, and none were taking medication that alters heart rate.
In individuals with low fitness levels, the blood pressure and heart rate responses to low levels of exercise are often much higher than in individuals with better fitness.
“Small blood vessels in the brain are vulnerable to changes in blood pressure and can be damaged by these fluctuations,” Spartano said.
“Vascular damage in the brain can contribute to structural changes in the brain and cognitive losses. In our investigation we wanted to determine whether exaggerated blood pressure fluctuations during exercise were related to later structural changes in the brain.”
The researchers found:
- People who had a lower fitness level or greater increase in diastolic blood pressure (bottom number) or heart rate a few minutes into the low-intensity treadmill test (2.5 miles an hour) had smaller brain tissue volume later in life;
- People who had a larger increase in diastolic blood pressure during low-intensity exercise also performed more poorly on a cognitive test for decision-making function later in life.
Apparently the best way to not lose your marbles later in life is to keep fit and healthy with exercise.