A mounting body of scientific evidence points to the suggestion that the more you exercise as a young adult, the better your brain will work when you’re older. For example, a recent study published in Academy of Neurology found that young adults with higher cardiovascular fitness levels performed better on cognitive tests 25 years later compared to those who were less fit. Furthermore, a 2013 Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research study found that six weeks of agility training improved attention and memory among military personnel compared to their traditional military physical training.
While these and other studies had participants perform thinking tasks, a new Neurobiology of Aging study was the first to use MRI tests to get same-day measurements of artery health and cognition. And as the results show, artery health and cognition go hand-in-hand.
Researchers at the University of Montreal first tested the physical fitness of 31 young adults and 54 older adults using an exercise-until-exhaustion test. Then, within the next month, the researchers did MRI scans of the adults’ brains as they performed a cognitive exam called the Stroop test (say the ink color of a word printed in a different color and other brain tasks) in addition to examining the arteries of the brain.
The study found that not only did older adults have slower times on the Stroop test compared to younger people, but also within the older group, those who had faster times had less stiff arteries and better cardiovascular fitness (VO2max). Overall, the older group had lower VO2max compared to the younger group. A decline in vascular health as we age ultimately leads to cognitive decline and cardiovascular exercise is a way to mediate these vascular changes and improve cognitive health, the researchers concluded.
It’s never too late to start exercising, and now knowing that cardio can help keep your brain young, you’ve got no excuse.