A new study has shown young adults who take part in cardiorespiratory exercise, such as running, may be more likely to have better thinking and memory skills in middle age. The 25-year study is published on Wednesday 2 April in the journal Neurology online.
Led by a team at the University of Minnesota, the researchers followed 2,747 people who were enrolled in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) Study. All the participants were aged between 18 and 30 when the research began, and took part in a treadmill test to assess their cardiorespiratory fitness at the start of the study. A subgroup of the participants (1,957 people) took the treadmill test again 20 years later, and all of the group underwent cognitive tests to measure their thinking and memory after 25 years.
The results showed that those who were able to run for longest at the start of the study had slightly better cognitive scores than their peers 25 years later. In those who repeated the treadmill test, people with the smallest drop in performance over 20 years also performed better in some cognitive tests. The researchers suggest that taking part in activities such as running from early on could help preserve memory in later life.
Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, said:
“Observational studies like this one can be very useful for highlighting factors that may affect our risk of cognitive decline, but they are less able to determine cause and effect. It’s not clear from these results how people’s memory and thinking changed over time, and it’s important to remember that the people in this study did not have dementia. It will be useful to follow this group of people for even longer to gain a better understanding of the links between this type of exercise and dementia risk.
“A growing body of evidence suggests exercise may reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia, and much research has shown a link between healthy habits in mid-life and better health in old age. Investment in research is vital to better understand how we can protect our brains as we age. While we don’t currently have a certain way to prevent dementia, evidence shows we can lower our risk with a healthy, balanced diet, regular exercise, not smoking, and keeping blood pressure and weight in check.”