Want to keep your mind young? Start exercising now

June 19, 2014 in Preventive Care  •  By Miles Varn
Starting an exercise regimen as early as possible will protect your brain as you age.

There are many reasons to work out: to lose excess weight, to keep your heart strong, or to maintain good muscle tone. However, there is a growing body of scientific evidence that suggests exercise is also good for your brain, and the earlier you take up an exercise regimen, the more benefits your brain will reap in the future.

At any given moment, 20 percent of the blood that your heart pumps out goes to your brain, where it nourishes the cells with oxygen and nutrients. Put another way, your brain needs to consume 20 percent of the oxygen and fuel in your body. For the brain to stay healthy, the whole cardiovascular system has to function well so the blood can flow freely, and research suggests the best time to start maintaining the cardiovascular system is in your 20s.

Fitness makes a difference 25 years later
The authors of a new paper, published in the journal Neurology, were curious about how people’s physical fitness during early adulthood could impact their neurological health during middle adulthood. To investigate further, the team of scientists evaluated more than 2,700 volunteers who participated in an earlier study designed to explore the long-term heart health of individuals.

When the initial study first began two decades ago, the participants underwent tests to measure cholesterol, blood pressure, and fitness, which scientists assessed by having them run on a treadmill to the point of exhaustion.

For the new paper in Neurology, the study authors asked some of the volunteers from the original study to do the treadmill test again. Additionally, they put the research participants through a series of neurological drills to test their memory and judgment skills, such as remembering words from a list.

Results showed that, for every additional minute that participants were able to run when they were in their 20s, they had better cognitive scores in their 40s.

It’s never too late to take action
While the study suggests that people in their 20s who are the most physically fit will be the most neurologically healthy during middle age, the authors emphasized that it is never too late for adults to start exercising for the benefit of both their physical and cognitive well-being.

Exercise is just one element of a healthy living strategy for the heart. If you want to keep your heart in shape in order to protect your neurological fitness later in life, you should also make the following lifestyle changes:

  • Curb your intake of saturated fat and cholesterol
  • Give up smoking, which can hurt your heart’s ability to pump blood to the brain
  • Manage your weight
  • Maintain healthy levels of blood sugar and blood pressure.

No matter your age, committing to an exercise regimen is easier said than done. However, a study like this may motivate you to stay active. As the research demonstrates, exercise is not just about being healthy today. It is also about investing in your future well-being.