I receive the AMA website on a daily basis and quickly look at the health news and articles that are summarized. (Yes it is one more email to read and then trash on my iPhone.) This week, most of the medical attention was focused on the Zika virus, but in between articles on this horrifically worrisome mosquito-spread (and global warming-induced) virus, I found an abstract of an interesting article that was published in the “Journal Neurology”. It showed a correlation between midlife exercise and brain fitness in later life.
The authors followed 1,094 individuals (53.9% female) who were participating in the Framingham study. (This is a long term ongoing study of residents of the town of Framingham, Massachusetts. The study began in 1948 with over 5000 adult subjects and is now in its third generation of participants. It has become the gold standard for calculating risk for coronary vascular disease and has impacted current recommendations for mitigating risk as well as on whom and when to consider therapy.) The actual participants cited in the current study were the offspring of those who were originally followed.
At the time of the onset of the study, the participants did not have known coronary vascular disease. They underwent an exercise treadmill test at a mean age of 40 (plus or minus 9 years). Two decades later they had a second treadmill test as well as MRI scans of the brain. Their average age when the second tests were performed was 58 (again to be statistical correct, this was plus or minus 8 years). Those who had poor cardiovascular fitness at their first test had a smaller total brain volume almost 2 decades later compared to those who were fit. The researchers calculated that the effect of one standard deviation of lower fitness (I won’t go into the math, but this is probably about a third less) was equivalent to approximately one additional year of brain aging.
Brain volume is a documented measure of cognitive health. The conclusion of the study would certainly suggest that midlife coronary vascular fitness can be an important step towards ensuring healthy brain aging.
When I look back 20 years I want to think that I was exercising and fairly fit. I’m certainly paying more attention to it now. I hope it helps…