People in poor physical shape after 40 may experience a decrease in brain volume when they reach 60, an indicator of accelerated brain aging, according to a new study presented at the American Heart Association EPI/Lifestyle 2015 Meeting.
“Some people do not begin to worry about their brain health until very late, when they are very old, but this study includes more evidence that certain behaviours and risk factors from a “middle age”may have important consequences on subsequent brain aging”, said Nicole L. Spartano, lead author of the research.
Nearly 1,300 participants took part in this study (Framingham Offspring Study) which began in the 70s, when their average age was 41. At that time, none of the participants suffered any heart disease or cognitive problems. After 1999, when their average age was already 60, they began to do various cognitive tests and brain MRI scans, etc. The results were clear. People who were physically fit had better blood pressure conditions, which strongly influences the neurological level.
“The small blood vessels in the brain are very vulnerable to changes in blood pressure and can be damaged with these fluctuations”, affirmed Spartano. “Indeed, this vascular damage in the brain may contribute to the occurrence of structural changes and cognitive losses. So we wanted to investigate its relationship with the physical shape of people,” he added.
The researchers found that those people with poorest physical conditions or those who suffer increased diastolic blood pressure (known as the “minimum” or “lowest” pressure) or a higher heart rate in low intensity routines had smaller brain tissue volume over the years. These people also performed worse in the long run in a cognitive test that measured the decision-making function.
Thus, it was found that a poor physical condition may be associated with accelerated brain aging. Promoting physical exercise, not only during childhood or youth, but also after 40, is a very important step to ensure healthy brain aging in the population.
The next aim, according to Spartano, is to study participants in the trial ten years later to determine how many of them developed dementia or other cognitive impairment, and whether it could be related to the practice of exercise in middle age.
What is clear is that engaging in healthy habits throughout life, with regular exercise and a diet based on the principles of the Mediterranean Diet, will undoubtedly translate into improved quality of life for people. And that is priceless.