Couch potatoes risk brain as well as muscle atrophy: MRI study

To exercise your mind you have to exercise your body, say the results of a newly released MRI study that was 20 years in the making. The study, published February 10 in the journal of Neurology, has its roots in the 1990s when 1,583 middle-aged (average age 40 years) participants took a treadmill test and a subsequent MRI scan.

Twenty years later, researchers located the same participants (well, almost–the researchers excluded those who had developed heart disease and/or were taking beta blockers, bringing the total down to 1, 094 participants) and repeated the procedure: treadmill test, then MRI brain scan.

To measure results, each participant was timed by how long they could last on the treadmill before their heart rate reached a cutoff level. Astonishingly, for every eight units less that a participant could perform on the initial treadmill test, their brain volume two decades later was found to be smaller. According to the researchers, each eight units lost was the equivalent of approximately one year of accelerated cognitive aging.

“We found a direct correlation in our study between poor fitness and brain volume decades later, which indicates accelerated brain aging,” said Dr. Nicole Spartano, an author of the study. “While not yet studied on a large scale, these results suggest that fitness in middle age may be particularly important for the many millions of people around the world who already have evidence of heart disease.”