Research finds older women who are physically fit have better cognitive function
Want to stay sharp as you age? Then get moving!
New research published in the international journal Neurobiology of Aging by Marc Poulin, PhD, DPhil, finds that being physically fit helps the brain function at the top of its game. An Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research Senior Scholar, Poulin finds that physical activity benefits blood flow in the brain, and, as a result, cognitive abilities.
"Being sedentary is now considered a risk factor for stroke and dementia," says Poulin, a scientist in the Faculties of Medicine and Kinesiology at the University of Calgary. "This study proves for the first time that people who are fit have better blood flow to their brain. Our findings also show that better blood flow translates into improved cognition."
The study, Effects of Cardiorespiratory Fitness and Cerebral Blood Flow on Cognitive Outcomes in Older Women, compares two groups of women whose average age was 65 years old. From a random sample of 42 women living in Calgary, the study observed women who took part in regular aerobic activity, and another group of women who were inactive. Poulin's team recorded and measured the women's cardiovascular health, resting brain blood flow and the reserve capacity of blood vessels in the brain, as well as cognitive functions. The team included scientists, doctors and graduate students, with MSc student Allison Brown taking a lead role.
The scientists found that compared to the inactive group, the active group had lower (10 per cent) resting and exercising arterial blood pressure, higher (5 per cent) vascular responses in the brain during submaximal exercise and when the levels of carbon dioxide in the blood were elevated, and higher (10 per cent) cognitive function scores.
One study participant, Calgarian Merceda Schmidt, 91 years old , walks about six kilometres per week to her volunteer schoolteaching and piano playing commitments. "It's just in my nature - the batteries I got when I was born. My legs want to go," says Schmidt. "I have to admit, I was nervous before the bike test. I could've done better if my shoe hadn't fallen off."
"The take home message from our research is that basic fitness - something as simple as getting out for a walk every day - is critical to staying mentally sharp and remaining healthy as we age," says Poulin, a member of the Department of Physiology & Biophysics, and the Hotchkiss Brain Institute.
Poulin's research is supported by AHFMR, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Alberta, NWT & Nunavut, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and the Strafford Foundation.
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- Previous studies have found that as people age, there is a progressive decline in blood flow to the brain. Poulin's study notes that this decline "is accelerated after menopause and persists into old age."
- "This study provides compelling evidence that aerobic fitness contributes to the maintenance of healthy brain function throughout the aging process," says Poulin, PhD, DPhil. "Results from our study provide a strong scientific basis for future studies to examine how exercise improves cognition in older adults. The implications are considerable given the aging population and age-related cerebrovascular diseases such as Alzheimer's disease and stroke."
- Each participant did an interview and questionnaire enumerating the hours they spent on recreational, volunteer, and household activities. Poulin's team then converted those activities into units of energy expenditure. The researchers also undertook a high-resolution ultrasound of the carotid and cerebral arteries of each participant to measure blood flow through the main vessels in the neck and head.
- Participants also did a bike test to assess their fitness level, in which Poulin's team measured oxygen uptake, carbon dioxide production, heart rate, blood pressure and the level of oxygen in the blood. The research team then measured the respiration of the participants in a resting state, and then again while riding a bike. During this test, the team measured cerebral blood flow with an ultrasound of the middle cerebral artery.
- The final phase of the study was a comprehensive 2.5 hour test measuring the participants' overall cognitive function including assessment of several cognitive domains: verbal knowledge, spatial reasoning, memory, processing speed, multi-tasking, initiation and planning.
- The study authors took into account key factors such as hormones, age and education in their findings.
- The study is available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2008.11.002
- Since 1980, AHFMR has committed more than $1 billion to researchers at the University of Alberta, the University of Calgary, and the University of Lethbridge. AHFMR, which leads health research in Alberta's innovation system, was highly commended for its achievements by an International Board of Review in June 2004. In 2005 the Alberta Government committed an additional $500 million to the Foundation's endowment. The AHFMR Endowment supports an annual investment of approximately $60 million in health research in Alberta.
New research published in an international scientific journal by Marc Poulin, PhD, DPhil finds a clear relationship between physical fitness and cognitive function. Poulin, an Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research Senior Scholar, is a scientist in the faculties of medicine and kinesiology at the University of Calgary. His research focuses on healthy aging.
"The cresting of the wave of baby boomers begins in 2011 as the first of the Silver Tsunami have their 65th birthdays," says Poulin, a member of the Department of Physiology & Biophysics, and the Hotchkiss Brain Institute. "Our results point to a simple intervention - exercise - to delay the onset of age-related brain afflictions."
Reporters are invited to a media availability at 10 am on Thursday, January 8th, 2009 in the laboratory where the study took place: Heritage Medical Research Building Room 209, Health Sciences Centre, 3330 Hospital Drive NW, University of Calgary Foothills Campus.
Who: Marc Poulin, PhD, DPhil will outline his findings.
Two study participants, Calgarians Merceda Schmidt (91 years young) and Myrna McRoberts (67 years young) will also share their perspectives and answer questions.
What: Laboratory interviews and demonstrations. Highlights include the bike activity test with mouth piece/oxygen measurement, and the ultrasound of cerebral arteries.
Where: HMRB 209, Health Sciences Centre, 3330 Hospital Drive NW, University of Calgary Foothills Campus. Park in Lot 6 for reimbursement.
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