Physical fitness helps brains of aging women


New research from the University of Calgary is providing yet another reason for women to stay physically active as they age.

The study, which is published in the international journal Neurobiology of Aging, has found that women who stay physically fit help their brains to function at optimum levels.

Marc Poulin, the senior author of the study, says physical activity helps blood flow in the brain -- and that leads to better cognitive abilities.

"The vascular benefits of exercise that have been reported previously in the heart and muscles are also conferred to the brain ... There are vascular benefits to the brain, as well, from exercise," he told by phone from the University of Calgary's Faculty of Medicine.

The study, entitled the "Effects of Cardiorespiratory Fitness and Cerebral Blood Flow on Cognitive Outcomes in Older Women," compared two groups of women whose mean age was 65 years old. It looked at a random sample of 42 women living in Calgary, splitting them into two groups. One group took part in regular aerobic activity and the other group of women was relatively sedentary.

Researchers then recorded and measured the women's cardiovascular health, resting brain blood flow and the reserve capacity of blood vessels in the brain, as well as cognitive functions.

Poulin says that the study proves for the first time that people who are fit have better blood flow to the brain.

"Our contribution is that we show there are benefits (from exercise) to blood vessels in the brain," he said.

The scientists found that compared to the inactive group, the active group had:

Ten per cent lower resting and exercising arterial blood pressure.
Five per cent higher vascular responses in the brain during submaximal exercise.
Ten per cent higher cognitive function scores, when the levels of carbon dioxide in the blood were elevated.

Poulin says the take home message from his study is simple: exercise helps women's cognition as they grow older. But he also said it also suggests that men could benefit as well -- along with younger women.

"The thing with exercise is that it has the potential to impact one's health at any age," he said.

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