Latest News » Midlife physical fitness may help maintain brain health in senior years

Forty-year-olds who stay physically fit may reap the brain health benefits into their 60s.

Staying physically fit in your 40s can help preserve strong brain health well into your 60s, according to a new study.

The research team, led by Nicole Spartano of Boston University School of Medicine, reviewed over 1,200 people (with an average age of 41 years old) that had undergone exercise treadmill testing in the 1970s. Twenty years later, that same group was then evaluated with mental performance tests and MRI scans to determine what impact, if any, exercising in their 40s had on brain health in their 60s. Spartano's team found that subjects that had demonstrated lower levels of fitness during this midlife period also exhibited reduced brain volumes by their 60s, whereas those who maintained healthy, low-intensity exercising habits demonstrated sharper cognitive thinking. 

"I think many people will be surprised to learn that their fitness levels at midlife may impact brain health as they move into older adulthood," Spartano said in an official statement. "We were not surprised by these findings because there is growing evidence that many behaviors and risk factors in middle age may have consequences to brain health later in life."

Despite this finding, though, Spartano and other doctors agreed that this study does not prove a cause-and-effect relationship between midlife exercise and slowed aging for brain health, and that other lifestyle habits — like diets — may also play a significant role that the study didn't account for. For instance, as Dr. Joseph Masdeu, director of neuroimaging for the Nantz National Alzheimer Center, points out, "it's possible that people with brain changes making them more likely to get Alzheimer's [could also] be less prone to exercising."

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