women on treadmillsOne of the best ways for people to keep their minds sharp as they age is exercise. A study from the American Academy of Neurology studied the relationship between cardiovascular endurance and cognitive abilities. They found that people who were in good shape in their twenties did better on cognitive assessments 25 years later. The results emphasize the importance of exercise as a life-long habit.

For the study, 2,747 healthy young people with an average age of 25 participated in a cardiovascular assessment. The researchers asked the participants to run on a treadmill that steadily increased in speed and incline. Twenty years later, the participants took the treadmill test again. Twenty-five years after the initial assessment, the participants completed cognitive assessments to test their acumen in verbal memory, psychomotor speed (the relationship between thinking and physical movement), and executive function.

In the initial treadmill test, the participants lasted an average of 10 minutes. For the second test, the average duration decreased by 2.9 minutes. Cardiovascular endurance was associated with improved performance on the cognitive assessments: each additional minute that the participants ran in the initial test was correlated with correctly recalling 0.12 more words in the memory test and correctly replacing 0.92 more numbers in the psychomotor test. People with smaller decreases in cardiovascular performance also did better on the executive function test.

The results indicate that exercising during youth provides cognitive benefits in middle age. Although the results might seem minor, the difference in performance between those who had stronger cardiovascular skills were larger than the effects of one year of aging. The findings may also aid in identifying and preventing conditions like dementia, or other disorders that develop as people age.

“Many studies show the benefits to the brain of good heart health. This is one more important study that should remind young adults of the brain health benefits for cardio fitness activities such as running, swimming, biking, or cardio fitness classes,” stated study author David Jacobs, PhD, of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

This research is published in the journal Neurology.

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