Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Aerobic Activity in Young Adulthood May Preserve Midlife Cognitive Function, Study Finds


Young adults who participate in cardio fitness activities such as running may be doing more than helping to preserve their heart function—they may be helping to preserve their memory and thinking skills as well, according to a recent study published in Neurology. Researchers at the University of Minnesota conducted a study with nearly 3,000 healthy individuals in their mid-20s to assess the relationship between aerobic exercise and cognitive function. The participants were subjected to one year of treadmill tests starting at study initiation and another series of treadmill tests, in addition to cognitive tests, 20 to 25 years later. During the treadmill tests, participants were evaluated on their ability to endure increasing speeds and inclines without shortness of breath.

Study results showed that participants lasted an average of 10 minutes on treadmills during young adulthood, compared with an average of 7.1 minutes at middle age. Every additional minute completed on the treadmill during young adulthood was significantly associated with more words and numbers being recalled on tests evaluating memory and psychomotor speed at ages 45 to 55—even after adjusting for factors such as smoking, diabetes, and cholesterol level.

“Normal aging is associated with worsening of memory and slowing of psychomotor speed in middle and old age,” Dilip Jeste, M.D., director of the Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging at the University of California, San Diego, and a professor of psychiatry and neurosciences, told Psychiatric News. “Though the [present] findings need to be replicated in prospective longitudinal research,…the findings suggest that activities such as running can potentially reduce cognitive impairment in later life. Following these adults into old age may help determine if neurocognitive disorders such as dementia are less common in the individuals who engaged in vigorous exercise at younger age.” Jeste, who is a past president of APA, urged clinicians to encourage physical activity, especially aerobic exercise, in all of their patients—young and old—according to the patient’s personal physical capacity. “It can help not only their muscles and heart, but possibly also their brains in later life.”

To read more about research on the impact of exercise on cognitive preservation, see the Psychiatric News article, “Cardiovascular Fitness May Help Prevent Early-Onset Dementia. ”For extensive information on neurocognitive disorders, see American Psychiatric Publishing's Clinical Manual of Alzheimer Disease and Other Dementias.

(Image: Flashon Studio/shutterstock.com)

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