According to a new study by researchers at the University of Montreal and its affiliated Institute universitaire de gératrie de Montréal Research Center, exercising for a healthier heart results in protection from cognitive impairment. The research explained that the body's arteries become harder and more rigid with age, this contributes to cognitive changes. They have found that the vessel stiffening begins in the aorta, before reaching the brain.
Claudine Gauthier, first author of the study said that those who has better heart functions and aerobic fitness in their old age also performed better in cognitive tests, indicating that "preservation of vessel elasticity may be one of the mechanisms" to slow down cognitive ageing. For the research, 31 young volunteers between the age of 18, 30 and 54; older participants between the age 54 and 75 were taken. They compared the two groups on the basis of fitness and cognitive abilities. They were made to perform physical exercises till they were completely tired and their maximum oxygen intake was measured, followed by which their mental abilities were tested. For the cognitive ability assessment they used the Stroop Task. The task involves a great level of concentration; the participants must identify the ink colour of a word, which is the name of another colour. The task's difficulty lies in this identification, wherein people usually read the colour out without being able to say out the ink colour of the word.
The research only included volunteers who were physically and mentally healthy. The study used MRI scans to observe three important physical changes, the volunteers' blood flow to the brain, their brain activity while performing the Stroop task and to look into the condition of their aorta. Gauthier stated that the study was the first to use MRI to examine the participants. "It enabled us to find even subtle effects in this healthy population that suggests other researchers could adapt our test to study vascular-cognitive associations within less healthy and clinical populations".
The researchers have said that the aim was to look at the blood flow to the brain, as poor heart condition would cause a rapid blood flow at each heartbeat and this would result in the damage of small blood vessels in the brain. They found a huge connection between vascular health and brain function.
"The link between fitness and brain function may be mediated through preserved cerebrovascular reactivity in periventricular watershed areas that are also associated with cardiorespiratory fitness", Gauthier said. Though there may be several other impacting factors than fitness on cerebral vasculature, the results were extremely beneficial and essential to gain an understanding into the way the brain functions.
"Overall these results support the hypothesis that lifestyle helps maintain the elasticity of arteries, thereby preventing downstream cerebrovascular damage and resulting in preserved cognitive abilities in later life", Gauthier stated.