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Brisk walk 'can boost brain blood flow in elderly women'

April 13, 2011 - Washington

A new study has found that brisk walking for 30-50 minutes three or four times per week improved blood flow through to the brain as much as 15 percent in elderly women.

The 3-month study conducted at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital's Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine in Dallas included 16 women age 60 and older.

At the beginning of the study, the researchers used Doppler ultrasonography to measure blood flow in the women's internal carotid arteries, which are located in the neck and supply the brain with necessary glucose and oxygen-rich blood.

After assessing the women's physical health and maximal oxygen consumption (VO2 max), which is the body's maximum capacity to transport and use oxygen during exercise, the team tailored training programs for each woman according to her fitness level.

Training started at a base pace of 50-60 percent of the participants' VO2 max for 30 minutes per session, three times per week.

By the third month, the team had increased the sessions to 50 minutes each, four times per week, and added two more sessions at 70-80 percent of the women's VO2 max for 30 minutes.

At the end, the team measured blood flow in the women's carotid arteries again and found that cerebral blood flow increased an average of 15 percent and 11 percent in the women's left and right internal carotid arteries, respectively.

The women's VO2 max increased roughly 13 percent, their Blood Pressure dropped an average of 4 percent, and their heart rates decreased approximately 5 percent.

According to Rong Zhang, the lead researcher in the study, the results provide insight into how vascular health affects brain health.

"There are many studies that suggest that exercise improves brain function in older adults, but we don't know exactly why the brain improves. Our study indicates it might be tied to an improvement in the supply of blood flow to the brain," said Zhang.

A steady, healthy flow of blood to the brain achieves two things. First, the blood brings oxygen, glucose and other nutrients to the brain, which are vital for the brain's health.

Second, the blood washes away brain metabolic wastes such as amyloid-beta Protein released into the brain's blood vessels. Amyloid-beta protein has been implicated in the development of Alzheimer's disease.

The study was presented at the Experimental Biology meeting at Washington, DC.


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