Seniors with fastest aging brains
have worst physical fitness
Too many seniors don't start worrying
about their brain health until later in life
5, 2015 – The evidence just keeps piling up that confirms the connection
between good physical fitness and good mental fitness. It seems to be
particularly evident as people age into their sixties. Seniors in the
best physical condition tend to have the best mental abilities. The
latest research finds those with poor physical fitness in their 40s may
have lower brain volumes at age 60.
This is an indication of
accelerated brain aging, according to new information presented at the
American Heart Association EPI/Lifestyle 2015 meeting.
"Many people don't start worrying
about their brain health until later in life, but this study provides
more evidence that certain behaviors and risk factors in midlife may
have consequences for brain aging later on," said Nicole L. Spartano,
Ph.D., lead author and a postdoctoral fellow at the Boston University
School of Medicine.
A subset of 1,271 participants from
the Framingham Offspring Study participated in exercise treadmill
testing in the 1970s, when their average age was 41.
Starting in 1999, when their
average age was 60, they underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of
their brains as well as cognitive tests.
The participants did not have heart
disease or cognitive problems at the beginning of the study, and none
were taking medication that alters heart rate.
In individuals with low fitness
levels, the blood pressure and heart rate responses to low levels of
exercise are often much higher than in individuals with better fitness.
"Small blood vessels in the brain
are vulnerable to changes in blood pressure and can be damaged by these
fluctuations," Spartano said.
"Vascular damage in the brain can
contribute to structural changes in the brain and cognitive losses. In
our investigation we wanted to determine whether exaggerated blood
pressure fluctuations during exercise were related to later structural
changes in the brain."
The researchers found:
● People who had a lower fitness
level or greater increase in diastolic blood pressure (bottom number) or
heart rate a few minutes into the low-intensity treadmill test (2.5
miles an hour) had smaller brain tissue volume later in life.
● People who had a larger
increase in diastolic blood pressure during low-intensity exercise also
performed more poorly on a cognitive test for decision-making function
later in life.
Thus, poor physical fitness appears
to be associated with accelerated brain aging, the researchers suggest.
And, they can offer some specifics.
"For every 3.4 units lower exercise
capacity, every 7.1 mm Hg higher exercise diastolic blood pressure, and
for every 8.3 beats/minute higher exercise heart rate in midlife, these
effects are approximately equivalent to an additional 0.5 years of brain
aging," Spartano said.
Apart from the exercise tests, a
higher resting systolic blood pressure (top number) at age 40 was
associated with a smaller frontal lobe volume and a greater volume of
white matter hyperintensity (an indicator of loss of blood flow with
aging) on the later brain MRIs.
Promotion of midlife physical
fitness may be an important step towards ensuring healthy aging of the
brain in the population, researchers said.
"It will be interesting to follow
up with these participants in another 10 years to determine how many
developed dementia, and if that may be related to their fitness or
exercise blood pressure or exercise heart rate in midlife," Spartano
Co-authors of the study included
Jayandra J. Himali, Ph.D.; Alexa S. Beiser, Ph.D.; Charles DeCarli,
M.D.; Ramachandran S. Vasan, M.D.; and Sudha Seshadri, M.D.
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