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Exercising at Middle Age Can Boost Physical and Mental Health

Update Date: Oct 30, 2012 08:47 AM EDT

It is never too late to stop working out, as one can receive its benefits no matter what age they start exercising at.

A new study suggests that taking up sports or any physical activity at middle age could boost brain power, along with helping people stay healthy.

The study that observed overweight men who exercised regularly for just a few months revealed that along with a shrunken waist size, the men also benefited mentally from exercising.

The men who participated in the study were of age 49 on an average and were asked to do just two weekly sessions of high-intensity interval training, involving short bursts of hard exercise, separated with short breaks in between.

They also cycled and did other types of exercises and circuit training.

After four months of following the regime, it was found that the men performed better on mental tasks, for example, they displayed a better attention span, processing speed, short-term memory and flexibility of thought.

According to researchers from the University of Montreal, the better performance could be attributed to a better health of arteries, and hence a better usage of oxygen by the brain.

"The participants' cognitive functions had greatly improved thanks to the exercise," researcher Anil Nigam said.

"You can give someone a cholesterol-lowering pill, you can give someone blood sugar-lowering medicine, but they have no impact on cognitive function. But exercise can do all of that - and more."

According to the report, middle-aged people with cardiovascular risks see a significant improvement in their brain functions with a high-intensity training program.

All the participants had an overweight BMI (28 to 31) and one or more cardiovascular risk factors.

"We worked with six adults who all followed a four-month program of twice weekly interval training on stationary bicycles and twice weekly resistance training." Dr. Anil Nigam, of the University of Montreal, was quoted as saying by Mail Online.

"Cognitive function, VO2max and brain oxygenation during exercise testing revealed that the participants' cognitive functions had greatly improved thanks to the exercise."

The mental ability tests required participants to do tasks such as remembering pairs of numbers and symbols.

 "After the program was finished, we discovered that their waist circumference and particularly their trunk fat mass had decreased. We also found that their VO2max, insulin sensitivity had increased significantly, in tandem with their score on the cognitive tests and the oxygenation signals in the brain during exercise. Insulin sensitivity is the ability of sugar to enter body tissue (mainly liver and muscle.)" Dr. Nigam added.

The study was to the Canadian Cardiovascular congress.

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