U of M researchers find link between running in your 20s and sharper mind [UPDATE]


Here's some news to get you off your ass: If you want a sharper mind in your 40s, move your feet more in your 20s.

That's the takeaway of a new study by University of Minnesota researchers -- including David Jacobs, a professor and epidemiologist in the School of Public Health -- who examined 2,747 men and women over 25 years. Published in the latest issue of Neurology, the paper shows that young folks who did better on treadmill tests tended to do better on memory and problem solving tests in middle age.

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In other words, aging runners were able to remember more and recall things quicker. For instance, the fittest participants of the study were able to respond half a second quicker when asked to identify the actual color of a word shown in a different color.

It's not much, but it's an edge. And the expectation is that the gap widens the older you get.

Dr. David Jacobs

Dr. David Jacobs

The researchers weren't sure why cardiovascular exercise is so important, though improved blood and oxygen flow to the brain probably curbs the chances for atrophy in certain regions. Jacobs couldn't be reached for comment Friday, but earlier in the week he told NPR, "Things that would be good for the heart are probably going to be good for the brain."

Further proof, one might add, that the distinction between mind and body is an illusion. At the very least the study contributes to a growing body of literature that has made similar conclusions about the dividends of early exercise on the brain.

Last year, researchers in England found that 50-year-olds scored higher on mental tests if they had first started exercising regularly as a child.

::: UPDATE :::

Jacobs returned our phone call this afternoon and explained that there may also be social implications in the study. The tread mill tests that were given over 25 years measured people's willingness to keep going as the elevation increased. Researchers took note not just of joint function but of emotional signals, like one's attitude towards a little sweat. "All of those things are related and relate to your engagement in life," Jacobs says.

However, he cautioned us against reading too deeply into the study's implications on the mind-body debate. He deferred those questions to Ludwig Wittgenstein.

-- Follow Jesse Marx on Twitter @marxjesse or send tips to [email protected]