(HealthDay News) — Poor cardiovascular (CV) fitness and greater exercise blood pressure and heart rate responses in middle age correlate with smaller brain volume later in life, according to a study published in Neurology.

Nicole L. Spartano, Ph.D., from The Whitaker Cardiovascular Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and colleagues examined data from 1094 Framingham Offspring participants free from dementia and cardiovascular disease (CVD) who underwent an exercise treadmill test at a mean age of 40 years. Two decades later, at a mean age of 58 years, participants underwent a second treadmill test and magnetic resonance imaging of the brain.

In multivariable adjusted models, the researchers found that there was a correlation for poor CV fitness and greater diastolic blood pressure and heart rate response to exercise at baseline with a smaller total cerebral brain volume almost 2 decades later (all P<.05). 

The effect of 1 standard deviation lower fitness was comparable to that of about 1 additional year of aging in CVD-free individuals. Exercise systolic blood pressure correlated with smaller total cerebral brain volume in individuals with prehypertension or hypertension at baseline (P<.05).

“Our results suggest that lower CV fitness and exaggerated exercise blood pressure and heart rate responses in middle-aged adults are associated with smaller brain volume nearly two decades later,” the researchers wrote.


  1. Spartano NL, Himali JJ, Beiser AS, et al. Midlife exercise blood pressure, heart rate, and fitness relate to brain volume 2 decades later. Neurology. 2016. doi:10.1212/WNL.0000000000002415.