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June 2024
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Young at Thought

UNC Study:  Cardio Activity Keeps Brains Younger

Regular exercise improves brain health, study shows.

Regular exercise improves brain health, study shows.

People often ask me, “Frank, when I exercise, should I do weight training or cardio training?”  The answer to this is both, ideally, as weight training and cardio activity is a complete way of addressing the body’s anaerobic and aerobic exercise needs.

But when push comes to shove, when time will only allow one or the other, you’re better off going with cardio over weight training.

There are many reasons for this.  One of them is that it works the heart more effectively and efficiently than weight training.  And that’s what every exercise session should accomplish – a thorough working out of the body’s most important muscle to help keep you “young at heart,” as Frank Sinatra used to croon.

Another reason why I prefer cardio over weight training is that it helps keep you “young at thought,” as a study published in the most recent issuing of the American Journal of Neuroradiology reports.

This probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise, as it seems like I’ve written about this in the past.  But believe it or not, this is the first time that a study has compared and contrasted the brain images of elderly people who exercise regularly with those who did not.

Those who exercised regularly did so for a period of at least 10 years (in a row) and for approximately 180 minutes per week.  Those who did not exercise were those who barely got 90 minutes of physical activity in the course of a week.

When they analyzed the men and women’s brains, they found that those who exercised had blood vessels that weren’t nearly as strained as those who barely exercised.  When I say “strained,” I mean that the blood vessels weren’t as twisted, or to use more scientific lingo, they were less tortuous.

Of course, the less tortuous blood vessels are, the more blood flow can travel throughout the brain.

These kinds of blood vessel patterns are very much like those found in young brains, and the researchers from the University of North Carolina believe that the elderly folks’ consistent cardio activity for 10 years or more was the catalyst in keeping their brain looking young.

More research is in the offing, as researchers hope to learn whether or not cardiovascular activity can reverse the natural narrowing and twisting of blood vessels in the brain that occurs over the course of a lifetime.

While there are many other reasons why I prefer cardio over weight training when pressed for time, brain health is among the most important reasons.

Finally, another thing people often ask me is what I prefer to do when I do aerobic activity.  I like to mix it up, walking outside and soaking up the vitamin D on nice days.  But when the weather is bad – like it’s been in Manhattan for nearly a month now – I like to hit the elliptical at my local health club.  Elliptical machines are very easy on the joints, and you can get a good muscle burn that burns up a lot of calories.

Best of all, it really works out the heart – and in keeping with the theme of this article, the mind as well.


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