Exercise is associated with higher cognitive function and is a promising intervention to reduce the risk of dementia. With advancing age, there are changes in the vasculature that have important clinical implications for brain health and cognition. Primary aging and vascular risk factors are associated with increases in arterial stiffness and pulse pressure, and reductions in peripheral vascular function.
The purpose is to discuss the epidemiological, observational, and mechanistic evidence regarding the link between age-related changes in vascular health and brain health.
We performed a literature review and integrated with our published data.
Epidemiological evidence suggests a link between age-related increases in arterial stiffness and lower cognitive function, which may be mediated by cerebral vascular function, including cerebral vasoreactivity and cerebral pulsatility. Age-associated impairments in central arterial stiffness and peripheral vascular function have been attenuated or reversed through lifestyle behaviors such as exercise. Greater volumes of habitual exercise and higher cardiorespiratory fitness are associated with beneficial effects on both peripheral vascular health and cognition. Yet, the extent to which exercise directly influences cerebral vascular function and brain health, as well as the associated mechanisms remains unclear.
Although there is evidence that exercise positively impacts cerebral vascular function, more research is necessary in humans to optimize experimental protocols and address methodological limitations and physiological considerations. Understanding the impact of exercise on cerebral vascular function is important for understanding the association between exercise and brain health and may inform future intervention studies that seek to improve cognition.