The Benefits of Cardiovascular Exercise to your Mind

Regular cardiovascular exercise can keep the heart healthy as well as maintain the integrity of the blood vessels. On top of that, the University of Montreal together with the Institut universitaire de gératrie de Montréal Research Centre, found that it can actually prevent the onset of cognitive impairment.

Important organs in our body decline in function when we age. Arteries stiffen, which usually starts at the aorta, the largest artery in the body. From there, small arteries are soon affected as well as the vessels going to the brain. Once hardening in the brain arteries happen, cognitive impairment may set in.

Based on the observation of researchers, senior adults who have better cardiovascular integrity and those who exercise regularly achieved better results in the cognitive test. This led them to conclude that maintaining the elasticity of your blood vessels helps keep cognitive impairments at bay.

The Study

The researchers obtained participants for two groups. One group was composed of 31 subjects between the age of 18 and 30 years old. The other group was composed of 54 participants between the age of 55 and 75 years old. All participants are physically and mentally healthy.

The participants were made to exercise to the point of exhaustion, after which their maximum oxygen intake was taken in a 30 second period. In order to test their cognitive agility, the participants underwent the Stroop task. It involves identifying a color based on the ink and not on the name by which it was written. For instance, the word “red” written in a “yellow” ink should be correctly identified as yellow. Cognitive agility is measured by how accurate and quick a person can correctly identify each color without giving in to the urge of actually reading the word.

In order to correlate the cognitive function with cardiovascular fitness, three MRI scans were taken. One is to evaluate blood flow to the brain, the other was to evaluate the state of the aorta and the other was to monitor the blood flow during the Stroop task. According to first author Claudine Gauthier, this is a breakthrough study because it uses MRI scan to monitor participants during the study. Further researches can adapt this method in order to further study the relationship between cognitive function and cardiovascular health.

Results showed that there is direct correlation with cardiovascular fitness, elasticity of the aorta and cognitive agility. Cardiovascular health affects blood flow to the brain. Once blood flow is restricted, pulse wave increases at each heartbeat. If this continues for prolonged period, it can eventually damage the small blood vessels in the brain.


Cardiovascular exercise should be an integral part of your lifestyle no matter what gender and age. Cognitive impairment cannot only be prevented by reading and other mental exercises. This study proves that cardiovascular fitness is as equally important to the brain as it is to our heart and vascular system.


Photo credit: Bromford on Flickr

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