Physical activity: medicine for the heart and the brain

Exercising to improve cardiovascular capacity could help guard against cognitive loss associated with aging. The exercise would maintain the elasticity of the arteries, which helps to prevent cerebrovascular damage and to preserve its cognitive faculties with age.

Arteries harden with age. This phenomenon would begin in the aorta, before reaching the brain. However, cognitive changes due to aging progress at about the same rate as arterial hardening, and there could be a link between the two.

In any case, this is what these Montreal researchers concluded by following a group of 31 people aged 18 to 30 and another group of 54 people aged 55 to 75.

Brain and heart go hand in hand

In one study, the fitness of participants was assessed by their maximum oxygen consumption in 30 seconds during intense effort. Cognitive abilities were measured using the Stroop test, which consists of showing the subject a word designating a color, but whose characters are in a color other than that represented by the word. Participants also underwent 3 MRI scans to assess blood flow in the brain, brain activity during the Stroop test, and the physical condition of the aorta.

Physical activity improves cardiovascular and brain health

The results demonstrated a decline in executive function, aortic elasticity and cardiorespiratory capacity as a function of age. They also show a link between vascular health and brain function, as well as a positive association between aerobic capacity and brain function. For the authors, the effect of physical fitness on brain function could go through the conservation of cerebrovascular reactivity in periventricular zones which are also associated with cardiorespiratory capacity.


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CJ Gauthier: Hearts and minds: linking vascular rigidity and aerobic fitness with cognitive aging. Neurobiology of Aging.


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