Elevated blood pressure is associated with a higher risk of cognitive impairment and dementia. A new study has found regularly fitting in relatively intense physical exercise could help preserve your faculties.

The research was put together by an international team of researchers using an existing dataset covering 9,361 US adults. The participants were all aged over 50 and non-diabetic, with hypertension and a high risk of cardiovascular disease.

"We know that physical exercise offers many benefits, including lowering blood pressure, improving heart health and potentially delaying cognitive decline," says physician and clinical professor Richard Kazibwe from Wake Forest University in the US.

"However, the amount and the intensity of exercise needed to preserve cognition is unknown."

For activity to count as vigorous it ought to make your pulse and breathing rate increase significantly. A jog would meet the criteria, where a leisurely amble probably wouldn't.

Engaging in at least one session of vigorous physical activity (VPA) per week reduced the chances of cognitive decline, the data showed, with just 8.7 percent of this group developing mild cognitive impairment and probable dementia, compared to 11.7 percent of those who weren't managing as much exercise.

Encouragingly, nearly 6 out of every 10 study participants were meeting the criteria of at least one VPA per week. However, the protective benefits of the exercise don't seem to be as strong once we're over the age of 75.

"It is welcome news that a higher number of older adults are engaging in physical exercise," says Kazibwe. "This also suggests that older adults who recognize the importance of exercise may be more inclined to exercise at higher intensity."

Those involved in the study reported on their exercise routines without any kind of independent assessment, and the data here isn't enough to prove a direct link between intense activity and warding off cognitive impairment and dementia.

However, we've seen enough in previous studies to know that there is a strong link between physical exercise and a lower risk of dementia. It makes sense that keeping our bodies in good shape would help ward off a decline in brain capabilities.

We also know that exercise can help in managing blood pressure too, so there are plenty of reasons to stay active as the years go by. The team behind this particular study wants to see future research that records exercise in more detail, and that includes a broader range of subjects (including those without hypertension), to analyze this relationship further.

"While this study provides evidence that vigorous exercise may preserve cognitive function in high-risk patients with hypertension, more research is needed to include device-based physical activity measurements and more diverse participant populations," says Kazibwe.

The research has been published in Alzheimer's & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association.