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A new study finds that exercise maintains critical connections in the brains of older adults while boosting fitness. Older adults who walked regularly performed better on tests of cognitive function and memory and had better cardiorespiratory fitness.

The study involved 33 older adults (average age, 78 years). Participants walked on a treadmill for 30 minutes a day, four times a week, for 12 weeks and underwent tests before and after the intervention to assess their physical and cognitive performance. In addition, researchers performed functional MRIs to examine the neural connections in their brains.

They found that participants' cardiorespiratory fitness improved by more than 10 percent. They also demonstrated improvements in cognitive performance, particularly in verbal fluency, verbal learning, and memory. The MRIs revealed that participants experienced increased connectivity between the default mode network and regions of the brain involved in memory.

The default mode network is a collection of interconnected neural structures involved in attention and focus. Disturbances in default mode network connectivity are associated with poor working memory, reduced performance, and work-related productivity losses.

Although this was a small study, it supports a growing body of evidence suggesting exercise is a potent strategy for staving off cognitive decline in aging. One contributor to cognitive decline is the loss of blood-brain barrier integrity. Learn how vigorous exercise helps maintain blood-brain barrier integrity as we age in this episode featuring Dr. Axel Montagne.

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