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Exercising your heart can improve your mind

Nicole Briggs looks at a real human brain being displayed as part of an exhibition
Nicole Briggs looks at a real human brain being displayed as part of an exhibition
Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Good news for people who like to stay in shape is that by exercising your heart you are keeping your mind in shape too. According to a new study by researchers at the University of Montreal which as reported on Aug. 25, 2014 exercising to improve our cardiovascular strength may help to protect us from cognitive impairment as we become older. Claudine Gauthier, first author of the study, says it appears preservation of vessel elasticity may be one of the mechanisms which enables exercise to slow down cognitive aging.

The researchers found an association between vascular health and brain function. They observed a positive association between aerobic fitness and functioning of the brain. The results of this research support the hypothesis that lifestyle helps to maintain the elasticity of arteries, and thereby helps prevent downstream cerebrovascular damage. This results in preservation of cognitive abilities in later life.

This study has been published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging. Human aging has been found to be accompanied by both vascular and cognitive changes. Arteries throughout the body become stiffer as we age. Vessel hardening apparently starts at the level of the aorta and progresses to other organs, including the brain. With progression of this vascular impairment we may see cognitive changes that arise with a similar time course during aging.

It has been proposed that regular exercise plays a protective role by attenuating the impact of age on vascular and metabolic physiology. Overall, the results of this study have supported the hypothesis that cognitive status in aging is associated with vascular health. The preservation of vessel elasticity may be one of the primary mechanisms by which physical exercise helps to alleviate cognitive aging. Therefore keeping your heart in shape should also be helping to keep your mind sharp.