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Sport makes middle aged people smarter, new study shows


Taking up sport in middle age could boost your brain power, say researchers.

A study of overweight men who exercised regularly for just a few months found that as their waists shrunk, their mental agility grew.

The men, who had an average age of 49, did two weekly sessions of high-intensity interval training, in which short bursts of hard exercise are interspersed with rest.

They also did other types of exercise, including lifting weights, cycling on exercise bicycles and circuit training.

Four months on, the men performed better on mental tasks, including tests of attention, processing speed, short-term memory and flexibility of thought, the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress heard.

Experts at the University of Montreal believe the men’s brains benefited when the health of their arteries improved.

Their brains also made better use of oxygen.

‘The participants’ cognitive functions had greatly improved thanks to the exercise,’ researcher Anil Nigam said.

‘You can give someone a cholesterol-lowering pill, you can give someone blood sugar-lowering medicine, but they have no impact on cognitive function.

But exercise can do all of that – and more.’

Brain functions are improved significantly in middle-aged people with cardiovascular risk after they undergo a high-intensity training program.

Scientists say high-intensity interval training involves alternating between short periods of low and high intensity aerobic exercise - such as a series of 30 seconds of sprinting followed by 30 seconds of walking or jogging.

Participants all had a BMI between 28 and 31 (overweight) and one or more other cardiovascular risk factors.

Dr Anil Nigam, of the University of Montreal, said: 'We worked with six adults who all followed a four-month program of twice weekly interval training on stationary bicycles and twice weekly resistance training.

'Cognitive function, VO2max and brain oxygenation during exercise testing revealed that the participants’ cognitive functions had greatly improved thanks to the exercise.'

The tests included tasks such as remembering pairs of numbers and symbols, and to see what was actually happening in the brain, researchers used near-infra red spectroscopy (NIRS) - a technique that works with light in the near-infra red range sent though human tissue that reacts with oxygen in the blood.

They say it is so sensitive that it detects the tiny changes in the volume and oxygenation of blood that occurs in brains when people exercise or think.

Dr Nigam said: 'After the program was finished, we discovered that their waist circumference and particularly their trunk fat mass had decreased.

'We also found that their VO2max, insulin sensitivity had increased significantly, in tandem with their score on the cognitive tests and the oxygenation signals in the brain during exercise. Insulin sensitivity is the ability of sugar to enter body tissue (mainly liver and muscle.)'

Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2224896/Taking-sport-middle-age-boosts-brain-power.html

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