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Cardio Exercise can Preserve Thinking Skills in Middle Age

Update Date: Apr 02, 2014 04:27 PM EDT

A recent study claimed that too much running in the long run can be detrimental to heart health. However, running just the right amount can provide numerous health benefits. In a new study, researchers found that running and other cardio activities can help preserve thinking skills by the time people reach middle age.

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

For this study, the researchers examined the relationship between cardiorespiratory fitness and thinking skills in middle age. Cardiorespiratory fitness measures how well a body can transport oxygen to the muscles and how well the muscles can absorb the oxygen during physical activity. The team recruited 2,747 healthy adults with an average age of 25. For the first year of the study, the participants performed treadmill tests. They were then contacted 20 years later to perform the same treadmill tests.

After 25 years from the initial start of the study, when the participants have reached middle age, which was defined as any where between 43 and 55-years-old, the researchers also administered cognitive tests. These tests measured verbal memory, executive function and psychomotor speed, which factors in thinking skills and physical movement.

The team reported that at the beginning of the study, the participants lasted an average of 10 minutes on the treadmill. After two decades, that average fell by an average of 2.9 minutes. The researchers calculated that for every extra minute the adults performed on the initial treadmill test, they were able to recall 0.12 more words on the memory test 25 years later. The more active young adults also performed better on the psychomotor speed test as middle-aged adults.

"These changes were significant, and while they may be modest, they were larger than the effect from one year of aging. Other studies in older individuals have shown that these tests are among the strongest predictors of developing dementia in the future," Jacobs said. "One study showed that every additional word remembered on the memory test was associated with an 18-percent decrease in the risk of developing dementia after 10 years. These findings are likely to help us earlier identify and consequently prevent or treat those at high risk of developing dementia."

The study was published in Neurology.

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