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Poor blood flow to the brain, a common feature of aging, is associated with an increased risk of stroke and cognitive dysfunction. A recent study demonstrated that exercise improves brain blood flow and improves cognitive function in older adults.
The intervention study involved 206 healthy, cognitively intact middle-aged and older adults (average age, 66 years) with low physical activity levels. The participants engaged in a supervised aerobic exercise program three days per week, gradually increasing from 20 to 40 minutes over a period of six months. They also completed an unsupervised exercise session one day per week during the six-month period. The authors of the study assessed the participants' cognitive performance, cerebrovascular function, and overall fitness on three separate occasions over a period of 12 months.
After completing the six months of exercise, the authors of the study noted that the study participants improved by nearly 6 percent on measures of working memory, flexible thinking, and self-control. They improved by nearly 2.5 percent on tests of verbal fluency, comparable to abilities seen in person five years younger. Blood flow to the brain increased by nearly 3 percent, suggesting that cerebrovascular function is a critical aspect of maintaining or improving memory and verbal skills.
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