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Study reveals cardio exercise in 20s helps promote brain activity later in life

New research reveals that cardio exercises like running can improve memory decades later.
Photo by Maury Phillips/Getty Images

A new study from researchers at the University of Minnesota reveals that maintaining cardio fitness in your 20s can help promote improve thinking skills and memory 20 years later in life.

The study, which was published in this month's issue of Neurology, tested nearly 3,000 participants at 25 years old who were asked to undergo treadmill tests of cardiovascular fitness. During the test, they were asked to run as long as they could before they became exhausted or short of breath.

The average participant time on the treadmill was 10 minutes.

Twenty years later, the participants were asked to repeat the test. At this time, the length of time they remained on the treadmill dropped by nearly three minutes.

Five years later, the participants were tested for their cognitive abilities. These tests measured their memory and reaction time, as well as executive function, which describes a number of skills tests for thinking tasks.

In a phone interview with MinnPost, David Jacobs, one of the study’s co-authors and an epidemiologist at the U’s School of Public Health noted, “What we found was that the longer you could go on a treadmill test, the better your thinking skills."

However, the most intriguing aspect of the study was that the participants' performance on the treadmill test 25 years previously indicated their performance on the cognitive tests.

For instance, during the memory test, participants were showed 15 words and then were asked to recall those words 10 minutes later. For each additional minute they stayed on the treadmill in their 20s, the participants recalled an average of 0.12 more words correctly on the test 25 years later.

Jacobs acknowledged that the observed changes were modest. However, he did note that one's health in your 20s is really important to future health.

Dr. Kristine Jaffe of the University of California, San Francisco, lead author of the study, noted in an interview with Reuters that, “The important public health message is heart health is good for brain health even as a young adult.”