Background: Midlife vascular disease risk is a strong risk factor for late-life dementia. Central arterial stiffness, a hallmark of vascular aging, is associated with accelerated brain aging and cognitive decline. Habitual aerobic exercise is an effective lifestyle strategy to reduce central arterial stiffness and is related to lower risk of cognitive impairment.
Objective: To determine the associations among cardiopulmonary fitness, neuropsychological function, central arterial stiffness, and cerebral perfusion in the sedentary and endurance-trained middle-aged adults.
Methods: Twenty-six sedentary and 32 endurance-trained middle-aged adults were measured for maximal oxygen consumption, central arterial stiffness determined by aortic pulse wave velocity and carotid ultrasound, neuropsychological function, and regional cerebral blood flow assessed by MRI.
Results: There were no group differences in age, sex, ethnicity, education, blood pressure, and carotid intima–media wall thickness (all P > 0.05). Neuropsychological performance and occipitoparietal perfusion were greater, and central arterial stiffness was lower in endurance-trained individuals than in sedentary individuals (all P < 0.05). Greater cardiopulmonary fitness was related to better cognitive composite scores, including memory and attention-executive function (r = 0.28–0.40, P < 0.05). Lower carotid arterial stiffness was associated with better neuropsychological outcome independent of age, sex, and education (r = −0.32 to −0.35, P < 0.05), and correlated with greater occipitoparietal blood flow (r = −0.37 to −0.51, P < 0.05).
Conclusion: Lower carotid artery stiffness in endurance-trained adults is associated with better neuropsychological outcome and greater occipitoparietal perfusion.