There are a lot of good reasons to stay physically fit into middle age. Better sleep, muscle strength, heart health, and even mental performance are all perks of keeping up with exercise. And now, a new study shows that staying in shape in your 40s might even help protect your brain from shrinking later on in life.

Researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine found an association between brain tissue volume at age 60 and physical fitness levels in a person’s 40s. Specifically, people in their 40s who had lower fitness levels or had a higher rise in diastolic blood pressure (the lower number in a blood pressure reading) or heart rate after spending a few minutes on a slower-moving treadmill (2.5 miles an hour) were more likely to have smaller brain tissue volume at age 60.

Researchers explained that when someone is not very physically fit, his or her blood pressure and heart rate will be much higher in response to just low levels of exercise, compared with someone who is physically fit.

“People with lower fitness levels tend to have higher blood pressure (upper arm) response to even lower-levels of exercise,” study researcher Nicole L. Spartano, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the Boston University School of Medicine, tells Yahoo Health. “Therefore, during everyday activities, people with lower fitness levels may have higher blood pressure spikes throughout the day compared to people with higher fitness levels.”

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Jeffrey R. Ungvary President

Jeffrey R. Ungvary