Exercise could be a powerful way to help prevent dementia, a new study has suggested.
A team at the University of Kentucky College of Health Sciences established a link between fitness and blood flow to areas of the brain that are usually attacked by Alzheimer's disease.
Researchers looked at 30 men and women between the ages of 59 and 69. Participants were asked to complete treadmill fitness assessments and have ultrasounds taken on their heart. They were also given brain scans to measure blood flow to specific areas of the brain.
Led by Dr Nathan Johnson, the study aimed to investigate the relationship between heart function, fitness and blood flow to the brain, to see whether people in good physical shape would have a decreased chance of developing Alzheimer's disease.
The findings reveal that people who were more physically fit had improved blood flow to key areas of the brain, meaning a higher amount of oxygen and vital nutrients were able to reach it.
This means that people who get regular exercise could help keep their mind in good health, Dr Johnson explained, however this doesn't "prove irrefutably" that increased fitness prevents dementia.
Instead, he called the study an "important first step towards demonstrating that being physically active improves blood flow to the brain and confers some protection from dementia".
It also suggests that people who don't get enough exercise and lead mainly sedentary lifestyles could be more susceptible to the condition, especially if they have a higher genetic risk of being diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.
The researchers suggest that this is because people who are more physically fit have reduced arterial stiffness, meaning blood can be more easily transported to the brain.
Dr Johnson said the findings indicate that more studies should be focused on the role the heart plays in dementia.
The study was published in the journal NeuroImage.
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