Failing to exercise in midlife is linked with early death
*Sedentary lifestyle accelerates rate at which brain shrinks
*Physical activity reduces blood pressure, decreases strain on brain
IF you require a dig in the ribs to get off the sofa, the latest research may give you the encouragement you need.
For scientists have found that failing to exercise may shrink your brain.
A major study concluded that people with poor levels of physical fitness in their 30s and 40s were likely to have smaller brains two decades later.
Experts think that a sedentary lifestyle accelerates the ageing process, speeding the rate at which the brain shrinks.
The researchers, from Boston University School of Medicine, said staying fit in middle age is crucial to staying healthy in later life.
Brain shrinkage is a major factor in early cognitive decline, dementia and even premature death.
The scientists analysed medical data from nearly 1,600 people who were tracked over 20 years.
The participants underwent a fitness test on a treadmill in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when they were each aged between 31 and 49.
Each volunteer ran on the treadmill until their heart reached a certain heart rate, with the fitter participants taking longer to hit the target than those who were less fit.
Two decades later, between 1998 and 2001, the volunteers underwent a series of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) brain scans and neurological tests.
The scientists, whose results are published in the Neurology medical journal, found that those people who had the lowest fitness levels initially were most likely to have smaller brains 20 years later.
IS EXERCISING AT 40 THE KEY TO A LONG LIFE?
Many young people exercise in order to maintain a trim waist.
But exercising after 40 could be the critical time for preventing ageing, a study has found.
Even low-intensity exercise in middle age may slow the ageing of cells, researchers discovered.
The researchers looked at how exercise affected the length of people’ telomeres, the New York Times reports.
These are the caps on the end of Deoxyribo Nucleic Acid (DNA)/genetic material strands that prevent them from fraying, like plastic caps on the ends of shoelaces.
As a cell ages, telomeres naturally fray, but their deterioration is thought to be sped up by obesity, smoking, and illness like diabetes and insomnia.
Telomere length has long been linked with longevity.
Study author Dr. Nicole Spartano said: “We found a direct correlation in our study between poor fitness and brain volume decades later, which indicates accelerated brain ageing.”
All brains shrink with age, a natural part of the ageing process.
But the new results suggest that exercise levels determine the rate at which this happens.
On average, the authors found that the participants’ total brain volume shrank by roughly 0.2 per cent a year.
But those who were less fit when they were in their 30s and 40s saw their brains shrink faster.
For every 20 per cent reduction in fitness score below average in the initial exercise test, the participants displayed an additional 0.2 per cent brain shrinkage – the equivalent of an entire additional year of ageing.
This is thought to be because physical fitness reduces blood pressure, decreasing the strain on the brain.
People who were 20 per cent less fit were able to process less oxygen, had a heart rate of 17 beats per minute higher than average, and blood pressure of 14 points above normal.
As well as impacting on the size and health of the brain, each of these factors also increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Spartano added: “While not yet studied on a large scale, these results suggest that fitness in middle age may be particularly important for the many millions of people around the world who already have evidence of heart disease.”
The British National Health Service (NHS) guidelines which suggest adults should undertake either 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week.
But while most Brits claim to be ‘health conscious’, surveys reveal that 44 per cent do no regular exercise at all.
More than 74 per cent of men and 64 per cent of women in the United Kingdom (UK) will be overweight or obese by 2030, according to the World Health Organisation.
The Government’s Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, has repeatedly warned that being unfit and overweight fat has become the ‘new normal’, thanks to sedentary lifestyles and poor diet.
Dame Sally said last year: “I am increasingly concerned that society may be normalising overweight.
“Average weight is now overweight. We have two-thirds of adults overweight or obese and one third of children overweight or obese.”
Dr. Laura Phipps of Alzheimer’s Research UK said last night: “We know that heart health can have an impact on brain health, not only in later life but in middle age too.
“While it’s hard to conclude from these kinds of studies whether one factor definitely caused the other, the findings add to a growing body of evidence that poor cardiovascular health throughout life could have a negative effect on the brain.
“While diseases like Alzheimer’s are caused by a range of risk factors including age and genetics, damage to the blood supply in the brain also has a role to play.
Current evidence suggests the best way to maintain a healthy brain is to keep physically and mentally active, eat a balanced diet, not smoke, drink only within recommended limits and keep diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol in check.”
*Adapted from DailyMailUk online
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