New Study Shows Walking Keeps Older Women Mentally Sharp

Simply walking every day is shown to keep older women mentally sharp. Researchers now find that women, who remain physically fit, from walking, can ensure mental fitness, helping to combat cognitive decline normally associated with aging.

Marc Poulin, PhD, a scientist in the Faculties of Medicine and Kinesiology at the University of Calgary, published a study, appearing in the international journal Neurobiology of Aging. Poulin says, "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."

The study, Effects of Cardiorespiratory Fitness and Cerebral Blood Flow on Cognitive Outcomes in Older Women, compared two groups of women. The average age of the women as 65 and included 42 women. The researchers compared those who participated in regular aerobic activity to women who were inactive.

The results showed that active women had lower blood pressure at rest and during exercise, better response in the blood vessels of the brain during low-level exercise, and ten percent better mental function scores than the women who were not physically active.

Merceda Schmidt, 91 years old was one of the study participants. Schmidt actively walks every week, plays piano, and is a volunteer schoolteacher. She says, "It's just in my nature - the batteries I got when I was born. My legs want to go. I have to admit, I was nervous before the bike test. I could've done better if my shoe hadn't fallen off."

Dr. Poulin, a member of the Department of Physiology & Biophysics, and the Hotchkiss Brain Institute, reminds us that… “something as simple as getting out for a walk every day – is critical to staying mentally sharp and remaining healthy as we age".

The study…”identified strong associations between physical fitness, vascular function and cognition, and provides new understanding regarding the mechanisms by which fitness positively impacts cognition with aging”.

The take home message is that regardless of age, we should all at least walk for exercise in order to keep ourselves mentally sharp as we age. The end result is freedom from diseases of the blood vessels that can affect memory, promote heart disease, and lead to high blood pressure.

Kathleen Blanchard RN
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Effects of cardiorespiratory fitness and cerebral blood flow on cognitive outcomes in older women

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