Regular physical activity is known to improve cognitive ability and help stave off dementia, and now Canadian researchers think they know why.

In a small study of postmenopausal women aged 50 to 90, researchers at the University of Calgary found that those who were aerobically fit had improved blood flow to the brain, and that in turn was linked with better cognitive function.

"Being sedentary is now considered a risk factor for stroke and dementia," said principal investigator Marc Poulin, a physiologist at the University of Calgary. "This study proves for the first time that people who are fit have better blood flow to their brain."

The study involved 42 women who were divided into active and sedentary groups based on their fitness levels. In part, fitness levels were determined by questionnaires that asked about leisure, household and volunteer activities and their frequency.

"They were doing everything from walking to swimming to dancing to cross-country skiing and hiking," Poulin said of those in the physically fit group. Surprisingly, the older women were often more active than their younger counterparts.

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