Exercise good for aging brains

New study links exercise, healthier brains | Seniors can lower health risks by staying active

They pulled on their sweat pants, laced up their runners and agreed to get off their fannies and exercise.

Within three months, 125 older men and women participating in a University of Calgary study saw positive results.

The study, which examined the effects of exercise and blood circulation, sought people who exercised little. After three months, participants showed reduced body fat, improved blood flow to the brain and consequently, improved intellectual health.

“Exercise is really important for providing the fuel for your brain to make new connections,” said psychologist and researcher Stewart Longman.

Physical and intellectual tests were conducted on people older than 55. Physical exercise, as well as activities such as crossword puzzles, reading and listening to music, can contribute to a healthier brain.

Lead researcher Marc Poulin said regular cardiovascular exercise is vital to keeping minds intact and avoiding chronic diseases associated with aging such as dementia.

The study is being run in phases, and results are still preliminary. Full results will be available in 2014.

The first early study involved 42 women aged 50 to 90. About half admitted to being sedentary. Researchers found that the group had improved blood flow, and cognitive test results showed a 10 percent improvement.

The next study is also showing positive results.

Poulin hopes to follow up on the participants six months after they leave the program to see if the benefits persist.

Initial results show that participants had more vigour with a three percent improvement in physical fitness after three months of aerobic exercise three times a week.

Blood flow to the brain improved 8.7 percent, and people could handle higher doses of carbon dioxide.

Mental flexibility improved by 23 percent.

“We think the implications are enormous. Demographics are shifting with a large share of the population over 65,” said Poulin.

He expects more people could reach 100 in the future, but that increased longevity also comes with greater risk of costly chronic diseases. Studies like this hope to find alternatives to improved quality of life rather than relying heavily on pharmaceuticals, he added.

“There is little research to say people will live longer, but with exercise they can improve their quality of life,” he said.

The first group of baby boomers turned 65 in 2011, and the proportion of people older than that is continuing to grow. One-quarter of Canadians will be seniors by 2030.

The study is looking for more participants, particularly men older than 55.

For more information, contact 403-210-7315 or brainmotion@ucalgary.ca.

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