Older women who stay physically fit are greatly benefited not only by way of looks and better health, but also better brain function, as physical fitness improves blood flow to the brain.
Marc Poulin, PhD, DPhil, an Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research Senior Scholar has found that being physically fit helps the brain function at the top of its game.
"Being sedentary is now considered a risk factor for stroke and dementia. This study proves for the first time that people who are fit have better blood flow to their brain. Our findings also show that better blood flow translates into improved cognition," said Poulin.
The study, titled 'Effects of Cardiorespiratory Fitness and Cerebral Blood Flow on Cognitive Outcomes in Older Women', compares two groups of women whose average age was 65 years old.
In the study, the researchers took into account a random sample of 42 women living in Calgary and observed women who took part in regular aerobic activity, and another group of women who were inactive.
Poulin's team, which included scientists, doctors and graduate students, recorded and measured the women's cardiovascular health, resting brain blood flow and the reserve capacity of blood vessels in the brain, as well as cognitive functions.
It was found that as compared to the inactive group, the active group had lower (10 per cent) resting and exercising arterial blood pressure, higher (5 per cent) vascular responses in the brain during submaximal exercise and when the levels of carbon dioxide in the blood were elevated.
The active group was also found to have higher (10 per cent) cognitive function scores.
"The take home message from our research is that basic fitness - something as simple as getting out for a walk every day - is critical to staying mentally sharp and remaining healthy as we age," said Poulin.
The study was published in the international journal Neurobiology of Aging.