Ask any runner and she will tell you that one of the great benefits of running is the exercise's ability to bring clarity to the mental red tape of the day. But a new study shows that the benefits of running may go even beyond that daily boost of mental clarity to a lifetime of better mental health.

In a study conducted at the University of Minnesota, researchers found that when twenty-somethings engage in regular cardio activities - such as running, swimming, and biking - they may have better thinking and memory skills even decades down the road.

The study, which was published in the journal Neurology, tested the physical and mental health of participants over a period of about two decades. About 3,000 people with an average age of 25 took part in the study.

Participants underwent treadmill tests to evaluate their cardiovascular fitness during the first year of the study and then again 20 years later. They were asked to run for as long as possible before they became exhausted or short of breath. They also completed cognitive tests that measured memory and thinking skills at the start of the study and again twenty years later.

Researchers found that the people who ran for longer on the treadmill performed better at tests of memory and thinking skills decades later, even after adjusting for factors such as smoking, diabetes and high cholesterol.

In fact, the participants who maintained their treadmill times from their twenties into their forties and fifties were more likely to perform better on the cognitive tests than those whose times changed dramatically.

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