MONDAY, Oct. 29, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Regular high-intensity exercise is not only good for your body, it's also good for your brain, researchers report.
Their new study included overweight and inactive adults, average age 49, who underwent tests to assess their thinking, decision-making and memory skills -- also known as cognitive function.
The study participants began a twice-a-week routine with an exercise bike and weight training. After four months, their weight, body-mass index (a measurement based on height and weight), fat mass and waist circumference were all significantly lower, and their capacity to exercise had increased an average of 15 percent.
In addition, follow-up testing showed that the participants' brain function had also improved, and that the increases were proportional to the improvements in exercise capacity and body weight. Simply put, the more they could exercise and the more weight they had lost, the greater their improvement in thinking skills, the investigators found.
The study was scheduled for presentation Monday at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress in Toronto.
"If you talk to people who exercise, they say they feel sharper. Now we've found a way to measure that," Dr. Martin Juneau, director of prevention at the Montreal Heart Institute, said in Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada news release.
Blood flow to the brain increases during exercise. The more fit you are, the more that blood flow increases, Juneau explained.
A decline in brain function is a normal part of aging, but the decline can be worse for people with heart disease, he pointed out.
"It's reassuring to know that you can at least partially prevent that decline by exercising and losing weight," Juneau said in the news release.
While the study found an association between increased physical fitness and improved thinking skills, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
The data and conclusions of research presented at medical meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute offers a guide to physical activity.