Those who opt for the couch over the treadmill, be warned! Inactivity can result in smaller brains later in life.

A study published in Neurology (2016; doi: sought to draw links—if any—between low fitness levels, unhealthy heart rate and blood pressure scores, and brain health. The researchers looked at the records of 1,094 men and women who did not present with dementia or cardiovascular disease. Each participant completed a treadmill test and underwent an MRI at about age 40 and again nearly 20 years later.

The scientists’ initial theories were correct. At study completion, participants with poorer fitness, heart rate and blood pressure scores were also more likely to have smaller total cerebral brain volume. Consequently, the researchers emphasized the importance of being physically active to enhance brain function.

“Our results suggest that lower cardiovascular fitness and exaggerated exercise blood pressure and heart rate responses in middle-aged adults are associated with smaller brain volume nearly 2 decades later,” the authors stated. “Promotion of midlife cardiovascular fitness may be an important step towards ensuring healthy brain aging.”

Ryan Halvorson

Ryan Halvorson is an award-winning writer and editor. He is a long-time author and presenter for IDEA Health & Fitness Association, fitness industry consultant and former director of group training for Bird Rock Fit. He is also a Master Trainer for TriggerPoint.

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