Running at 25 Might Make You Sharper at 45

Heart-health in youth linked to cognitive skills later in life

Apr 3, 2014
Outside Magazine

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When you put on your running sneaks, you’re probably not thinking about how this 4-miler will improve your life 25 years down the road. But a new study published Wednesday in the journal Neurology, found that running in your twenties will boost your cognitive skills when you’re entering mid-life. 

Researchers for the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults Study suspect that cardio workouts like jogging help preserve brain function because a healthy heart can better pump blood and oxygen to the brain. The study is the first of it’s kind to examine how exercise in young adulthood affects life-long cognition. 

Back in 1985, 2,700 men and women between 18 and 30 years old were asked to run as fast as they could on a treadmill for as long as they could to judge their level of fitness for the study. Researchers followed them for 25 years to track how their fitness in youth affected their brains down the road.

Our study links fitness, which can be influenced by vigorous activity, but also by general engagement with life and the community or ‘being part of things,’ with poorer thinking skills at age ages 43 to 55 years,” the study’s author David R. Jacobs told Reuters Health

There were seven follow-up checks during the 25-year test, NPR reports. In 2010, researchers administered three tests of visual memory, reaction speed and the participants’ ability to answer a trick question.

Another analysis of the same data published Tuesday linked lower blood pressure and blood sugar in the teen years and twenties with quicker memory and learning skills in middle age, Reuters Health reports

The gist: the connection between a healthy heart and a healthy mind begins in your younger years. But even if you didn’t exercise in your twenties, it’s never too late to start. 

"If you have not done everything exactly right — and that's pretty much everybody — you can make changes later in life," Jacobs says.

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