Cycle, swim or run in your 20s, think better in your 40s & 50s: study

And don't stop cycling - keeping fit the whole time staves off dementia, say boffins

by John Stevenson   April 4, 2014  

Riding and jogging (CC licensed image by 24oranges.nl:Flickr)

Keep fit in your twenties - and cycling is one of the ideal ways to do it - if you want your brain to work better when you get to middle-age. That’s the message of a study in the latest online edition of the journal Neurology.

Keeping your heart healthy by taking part in cardio fitness activities like cycling, running or swimming in young adulthood may help reserve your memory and thinking skills in middle age, according to a new study published in the April 2, 2014, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. Middle age was defined as ages 43 to 55.

“Many studies show the benefits to the brain of good heart health,” said study author David R. Jacobs, Jr, PhD, with the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. “This is one more important study that should remind young adults of the brain health benefits of cardio fitness activities such as running, swimming, biking or cardio fitness classes.”

Test subjects were recruited from the long-term Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults Study, which began in 1985-6.

For this study, 2,747 healthy people with an average age of 25 underwent treadmill tests the first year of the study and then again 20 years later. Cognitive tests taken 25 years after the start of the study measured verbal memory, psychomotor speed (the relationship between thinking skills and physical movement) and executive function.

The treadmill test was similar to a cardiovascular stress test. Participants walked or ran as the speed and incline increased until they could not continue or had symptoms such as shortness of breath.

At the first test, participants lasted an average of 10 minutes on the treadmill. Twenty years later, that number decreased by an average of 2.9 minutes.

The study found a correlation between people’s performance in the first test and their ability in the memory test and psychomotor test 20 years later.

And there’s more good news for those now in their forties who have kept fit for the last two decades. The researchers found that people who had smaller decreases in their time completed on the treadmill test 20 years later were more likely to perform better on the executive function test. Specifically, they were better able to correctly state ink color (for example, for the word “yellow” written in green ink, the correct answer was “green”).

That might not sound very impressive, but it suggests keeping fit helps prevent the development of dementia.

“These changes were significant, and while they may be modest, they were larger than the effect from one year of aging,” Jacobs said.

“Other studies in older individuals have shown that these tests are among the strongest predictors of developing dementia in the future. One study showed that every additional word remembered on the memory test was associated with an 18-percent decrease in the risk of developing dementia after 10 years.”

Dr Jacobs said a concept was emerging of total fitness, incorporating social, physical and mental aspects of health.

“It’s really a total package of how your body is and the linkage of that entire package of performance - that’s related to cognitive function many years later and in mid-life,” he told BBC News.

Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “A growing body of evidence suggests exercise may reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia, and much research has shown a link between healthy habits in mid-life and better health in old age.

“Investment in research is vital to better understand how we can protect our brains as we age.”

7 user comments

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It's a pity the researchers didn't divide their sample group into two, with half of them using a cycle ergometer instead of the treadmill. I'm sure they would have found that, 20+ years later, the brains and bodies of the cyclists were much better developed. Am I biased?
Anyway, here's the link to the paper http://www.neurology.org/content/early/2014/04/02/WNL.0000000000000310.a...
and here's the link to the press release
https://www.aan.com/PressRoom/Home/PressRelease/1266

posted by cycling science... [5 posts]
4th April 2014 - 18:18

51 Likes

I am not sure that from the amount of ignorant and silly cyclist tweets I get, that cycling is good for the brain. How anyone can get angry and personal about the reality that road cycling is, whilst totally unprotected, on two slender wheels, mixing mingling and competing with large essential fast moving machines, operated by complete strangers of diverse ability and mental capacity. That's an accurate explanation of what it is. The road deaths, injuries and crashes of World's top cyclists therefore do have an explanation and should be no shock then. Clearly the more you do it the more chance of dying from it is an obvious statement and top cyclists sadly confirm it. Not at all healthy.

One dimensional exercise too. Swimming is far better, not such hard, uncomfortable work either. A Gym is also very good as is squash or tennis and all fun but much safer than road cycling can ever be.

Like joggers, only a tiny minority are keen cyclists. If it was that good, how come 99% of 65 million don't do it or don't even choose it as a viable pastime or transport mode? By all means cycle if you must but please remember that it isn't most normal people's idea of fun. Smile

Road safety 'experts' are often folk who's CV doesn't cut the mustard.

posted by Sedgepeat [64 posts]
4th April 2014 - 22:33

27 Likes

Sedgepeat wrote:
I am not sure that from the amount of ignorant and silly cyclist tweets I get, that cycling is good for the brain. The road deaths, injuries and crashes of World's top cyclists therefore do have an explanation and should be no shock then. Clearly the more you do it the more chance of dying from it is an obvious statement and top cyclists sadly confirm it. Not at all healthy.

One dimensional exercise too. Swimming is far better, not such hard work....

Like joggers, only a tiny minority are keen cyclists. If it was that good, how come 99% of 65 million don't do it or don't even choose it as a viable pastime or transport mode? By all means cycle if you must but please remember that it isn't most normal people's idea of fun. Smile


[[[[[ Well it doesn't look like cycling's done YOUR brain much good, pal. But apart from that, has anyone noticed how repetitive the article is? But apart from that, has anyone noticed how repetitive the article is? But apart from...
P.R.

PhilRuss

posted by PhilRuss [282 posts]
4th April 2014 - 23:01

40 Likes

Sedgepeat, if you think cycling is so awful why are you visiting a cycling website?

Northernbike's picture

posted by Northernbike [138 posts]
5th April 2014 - 9:50

27 Likes

[uote=Northernbike]Sedgepeat, if you think cycling is so awful why are you visiting a cycling website?

He's the road.cc pet troll. Usually only comes out when there's been a death so this is a bit of diggression although it's basically the same schtick as always.

When the results of these studies are framed like this it always seem just a step away from the 'x causes cancer /cures cancer' rubbish that infests the papers, they just look like filler. It's a shame because even if there is something in the research it makes it look trivial.

joemmo's picture

posted by joemmo [814 posts]
5th April 2014 - 11:21

28 Likes

There may indeed be a grain of truth in Sedgepeat's post but I reserve the right to ignore anything couched in such clumsy, ill-punctuated and ungrammatical English.

Mike

mike the bike's picture

posted by mike the bike [132 posts]
6th April 2014 - 16:38

25 Likes

Not that I want to feed the (partially-illiterate) troll, but I've tried swimming at various points in life and the trouble is it is just monumentally boring. Also it's rather difficult to use it as a means of commuting or actually going somewhere for any practical purpose. And, finally, in some places I've lived, by the time I walked umpteen miles to the swimming baths I felt that was quite enough exercise already!

Personally I just wish I'd taken up cycling much, much earlier in life and not let the scary-looking roads deter me. It's the form of physical activity that least requires me to force myself to do it (well, apart from, er, no lets not go there).

Swimming and cycling do both have the drawback of not being load-bearing, though, I think.

posted by FluffyKittenofT... [677 posts]
6th April 2014 - 16:50

16 Likes