For those of us who have been lazy most of our lives and don’t see the point of changing that anytime soon, here’s (one more) reason to get moving: Turns out that exercising during one’s midlife can slow down the brain from shrinking as we get older.

As per a study published in Neurology.org, there appears to be a connection between poor physical fitness levels during middle-age and smaller brain volume later on. We’ve already seen researchers prove the connection between improved brain activity and exercise.

The size of the human brain shrinks naturally during old age—often leading to disorders like dementia and other forms of cognitive decline. This research concludes that exercises can reduce the rate of this deterioration.

More than 1,500 people of an average age of 40, who did not suffer from dementia or heart diseases, took a treadmill test for this study. Twenty years later, they took another test along with MRI brain scans. The study found those who didn’t perform as well on the earlier treadmill test, thus displaying poor fitness, had smaller brains 20 years later.

This goes to show that physical fitness is significantly related to brain volume and, consequently, cognitive health in the elderly. As per the findings, people with heart disease should particularly watch their fitness levels to prevent brain aging.

Nicole Spartano, a postdoctoral fellow at the Boston University School of Medicine and an author of the study said: “We found that poor physical fitness in midlife was linked to more rapid brain aging two decades later. This message may be especially important for people with heart disease or at risk for heart disease, in which we found an even stronger relationship between fitness and brain aging.”

The study also found a correlation between high blood pressure and heart rate with smaller brain sizes after two decades. This makes sense, because people with poor physical fitness levels usually display signs of high BP and heart rate even with low levels of exercise, as compared to those who work out regularly.

Older studies have also proved that exercise increases blood and oxygen flow to the brain, which, over a long period can have a preventive impact on age-related cognitive disorders, suggested Spartano.

Simply speaking, if you’re in your 40s and haven’t gone running before, it’s still not too late to start. All signs point to the fact that a physically active middle age leads to healthy brain aging in older adults.

“The broad message is that health and lifestyle choices that you make throughout your life may have consequences many years later,” concludes Spartano.

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