By Margarita Nahapetyan
New research, published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging, found that women aged 50 to 90 who are aerobically fit and active have better blood flow to the brain which leads in its turn to better cognitive abilities. Marc Poulin of the faculties of medicine and kinesiology at the University of Calgary and his colleague scientists studied healthy postmenopausal women and suggested that fitness turns out to be the best prescription in order to maintain a sharp mind as people age.
The study was conducted on 42 randomly selected subjects with the average age of 65. Women have been divided into two groups - regular aerobic activity group and sedentary group. The women each underwent 20 hours of research which included exercises on a stationary bikes, two and a half hours of mental tests and consumption of CO2. Partly, fitness levels were determined by questions about leisure, household and volunteer activities and how often all of those happened. "They were doing everything from walking to swimming to dancing to cross-country skiing and hiking," Poulin said of women in the aerobic activity group. Surprisingly, much older women turned out to be more active than younger ones.
On a following day blood vessel capacity of the participants was measured by making them breathe elevated levels of carbon dioxide during their rest time. Ultrasound and other technology has been used to record and measure women's cardiovascular health. As a result, fit women had at least 10% lower resting and exercising arterial blood pressure. They showed 5 percent higher vascular responses in their brains during sub-maximal exercise, they scored 10 percent higher on overall memory skill tests (such as remembering series of pictures and cards) and 7 percent higher on perception tests. "Being sedentary is now considered a risk factor for stroke and dementia," said principal investigator Marc Poulin, "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."
One of the study participants Merceda Schmidt of Calgary, a fit 91-year-old is who runs six to eight kilometers per week, was not surprised with the results. The retired Calgary kindergarten teacher plays organ and piano at a nursing home and still volunteers at a preschool. Mrs. Schmidt says that understanding of the idea that there is a relationship between moving and her mind helps to keep her legs going. "If I want to live a happy end of my life, the golden age, I have to work at it," said Schmidt. "It is not really work. You enjoy it, it lifts your spirit." Being happily married for 66 years the woman strongly believes that being active and interested in different things is also important for ones happiness. At the end she added: "I have to admit, I was nervous before the bike test. I could have done better if my shoe hadn't fallen off."
Myrna McRoberts who also participated in the study looks much younger than her 67. McRoberts is an active biker in summer, cross-country skier in winter and an active participant of different exercise programs. "I do not have aches and pains, I just feel really wonderful," says McRoberts. "I walk a lot of hills. You don't have to do things well, just do them."
So there is a question that automatically comes up: Does leading active way of life mean that one is going to live longer? Unfortunately, experts say that at this point there is not much of an evidence to suggest that this will extend one's life. But for sure they say it "adds more life to your years. It adds the ability to have a fuller life in terms of cognition and better blood flow and just generally a better sense of well-being."
"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, "And while this study focused exclusively on women, the findings are likely to hold true for men as well."
The study was supported by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Alberta, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, AHFMR, NWT & Nunavut, the Strafford Foundation and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.