A new study that has just been released by the University of Montreal shows that exercising when you are young can keep your brain sharp when you are old. The researchers discovered that an active body could slow the process of blood vessel hardening related to aging and as a result preserve brain power.
Your blood vessels will begin to harden around 50 years of age. It begins in your aorta, which is the primary blood vessel that comes out of your heart and then it will slowly work its way towards your brain. For a long time experts have believed that this stiffening might play a role in cognitive decline. However, this study is the first that proves this using MRI scans.
The University of Montreal research team recruited a group of young adults who were healthy and too young to have any hardening starting. Then they recruited a group of individuals between 55 and 75 years of age that were mentally sharp and in good physical shape. All participants were given a fitness test that continued to the point of exhaustion. Then later they were given tests to assess what their cognitive abilities were, while the research team ran MRI scans to assess what the brain activity, physical condition of the aorta was and the blood flow to the brain.
It was no surprise that the young recruits were in better physical condition than the old recruits and that they performed better on the mental tests. However, the most interesting find was within the older group. Those that were in superior physical shape did much better on the cognitive test.
The MRI revealed that the aortas of the more fit ones was not as stiff as those who were not as fit and who did not exercise. The latter ones were also not as mentally sharp. What the research concluded is that blood vessel hardening appears to be linked to decline in brain function.
"The theory is that blood vessel hardening leads to lesions in the brain's white matter," says lead study author Claudine Gauthier. “The lesions show your brain cells aren't healthy enough to meet high cognitive demands. “
It’s important to realize that blood vessel hardening will not be the only factor that is linked to the aging of the brain, but it does appear to play a key role, since cardiovascular risk factors are linked to dementia too.
Previous research had already confirmed that starting to exercise earlier in life is most beneficial playing a key role in delaying the hardening process, which could help to preserve cognition. That’s just one benefit. Cognitive aging is mostly genetic, but lifestyle does play a role.
Spokesperson Dr. Gerald Fletcher, from the American Heart Association says, "Having a good cardio profile delays things such as blood vessel stiffening, whereas high blood pressure and high cholesterol can make arteries stiffen even more," he explains. "If you practice good cardiovascular health, you'll likely live longer and have better cognition later in life."
Another interesting study done by Brigham and Women's Hospital showed a link between midlife and later sleep habit and your memory. It showed that extreme sleep lengths actually led to a worse memory in the later years of life. Also extreme changes in your sleep patterns from middle age to old age potentially could have a negative effect on your memory.
This was the first study to evaluate the link between sleep duration at midlife and and sleep duration later life, and how the change in this sleep duration over time could negatively impact one’s memory. There were 15,263 participants of the Nurses' Health Study. Participants were female nurses, aged 70 or older who did not suffer from depression and who had not had a stroke at the initial cognitive assessment.
"Given the importance of preserving memory into later life, it is critical to identify modifiable factors, such as sleeping habits, that may help achieve this goal," Devore stated. "Our findings suggest that getting an 'average' amount of sleep, seven hours per day, may help maintain memory in later life and that clinical interventions based on sleep therapy should be examined for the prevention of cognitive impairment."
The researchers reported that extreme sleep durations could affect memory adversely at older ages, whether they occur at mid-life or later-life. It also noted that the greater changes in sleep duration seemed to have a negative effect on the memory of older adults. Women who had slept durations that changed by two or more hours every day from their midlife to late life did worse on the memory tests than those who had no change in sleep duration.
"These findings add to our knowledge about how sleep impacts memory," said Devore. "More research is needed to confirm these findings and explore possible mechanisms underlying these associations."
What we can garner from these reports is that what we do when we are younger can and does directly affect our cognitive ability when we are older. Certainly something to think about! To help fight brain conditions like Alzheimer you could make a donation by going to the Alzheimer's Association website.
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