Vigorous Exercise in 20s Leads to Sharper Middle Age

Running improves mental acuity later in life

From Canadian Running Magazine: Being a runner in your 20s may be paying off. New research published on Wednesday in the journal Neurology claims that those who were the most fit during their 20s also performed better on three cognitive tests 25 years later during middle age. In 1980, 5,000 participants between the ages of 18 and 30 from four U.S. cities took part in a treadmill test to gauge their fitness. Twenty-five years later, 2,700 of them who agreed to participant again were given three more tests: a word recall test; a numbers test of attention, thinking and memory; and an executive function test for focus. Those who lasted longest on the treadmill 25 years prior scored best on the cognitive exam. “This is one more important study that should remind young adults of the brain health benefits of cardio fitness activities such as running, swimming, biking or cardio fitness classes,” said lead author David Jacobs in a statement.

But don’t worry if you weren’t in your top physical shape during your younger years. The participants also did another treadmill test and it found that those who were the most fit now scored best, even if they weren’t in shape during their 20s, and those who were fit in both their 20s and middle age scored best. Those were were in shape when younger also displayed other positive qualities. They tended to have more education, weighed less, followed healthier diets and watched less television. Jacobs noted that you don’t have to be in great shape to see a lot of the benefits, but simply getting up and doing things with your free time rather than sitting around will go a long way. “Just moving around — being engaged in family and life as opposed to sitting down and watching TV and pretty much not doing anything, they are going to preserve brain function. This is really about engagement in life.”