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Exercising works the brain as well, study suggests

October 30, 2012

Many seniors want to stay physically fit and mentally sharp as they get older, and a new study suggests they can do both at the same time. Researchers from the Montreal Heart Institute found that adults who exercised regularly also enjoyed a boost in cognitive function as a result.

The study, which was presented recently at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress, involved adults who were overweight and inactive at the beginning of the research. Researchers instructed them to follow a four-month regimen of high-intensity workouts, which were comprised of twice weekly bike and circuit weight training.

At the end of the study, researchers noticed an improvement in the subjects' weight, body mass index and waist circumference. While not surprising, the changes to their physical health were accompanied by an improvement in their cognitive function, including their ability to recall information and make quick decisions. The reason for the cognitive benefits may be tied to the fact that blood flow to the brain increases during exercise.

"There are many benefits of exercise – we know it can make us feel better. This suggests it can make us 'think better' as well," said Dr. Beth Abramson, Heart and Stroke Foundation spokesperson. "Activity can help you even if it's spread out in chunks of 10 minutes or more at a time. In fact, to get the most benefit, add more activity to your life over several days of the week."

This is not the first study to find a potential correlation between physical and mental health. A 2010 University of Pittsburgh study found that people who have made walking six miles a week a part of healthy aging are also helping prevent Alzheimer's disease.