A research published in the Neurology journal on Feb. 10 shows that exercising in mid-life and keeping blood pressure in check can contribute to healthy brain aging.
The study, led by Dr. Nicole Spartano, gathered at least 1,500 men and women between the ages of 30 and 50 who are not suffering from dementia and heart disease between 1979 and 1983 and had the participants exercise on a treadmill to determine their fitness levels.
From 1998 to 2001, the participants were gathered again and the same activity was administered and their blood pressure and heart rate were closely monitored. A Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan of their brain was also done afterwards, which led the researchers to conclude that those participants who lacked physical activity in their mid-life - that is, those whose heart rate and blood pressure spiked faster - were more prone to having a decrease in brain volume later in life.
The study may have similar conclusions with other studies relating physical fitness to brain volume; however, we can't say that the results are conclusive since the MRI scans were only done during the more recent fitness test so there is really no evidence of changes in brain volume.
"Midlife exercise blood pressure, heart rate, and fitness relate to brain volume 2 decades later" can only conclude that physical fitness may be an important factor to slow down brain aging. "We are not able to tell from our study whether fitness in midlife or later life matters more... In future studies I would like to explore this distinction, to see whether one is more important than the other. But it is likely that both are important," Dr. Spartano said.
While the conclusion is not as definitive as it could have been if an MRI scan was done during the first fitness test, it is still good evidence that exercise helps protect our brains. This is because, as we exercise and our heart rates increase, more oxygenated blood is carried all over our body as well. This helps keep our muscular and nervous system healthy, and if one would recall the human anatomy, the brain and spine belong to the Central Nervous System (CNS).
"Over the course of a lifetime, improved blood flow may have an impact on brain aging and prevent cognitive decline in older age," Dr. Spartano said.
Perhaps the research team could do another MRI on the participants from 2018 to 2021 so there would finally be conclusive evidence. Just make sure to remember that bigger brains does not necessarily equate to higher I.Q.