Fitter legs linked to a 'fitter' brain

Fitter legs linked to a 'fitter' brain
Brain changes in identical twins discordant for leg explosive power: stronger twin 

Researchers at King's College London have found that muscle fitness as measured by power in the legs is strongly associated with an improved rate of ageing in the brain.

The findings, published in Gerontology, suggest that simple interventions, such as increased levels of walking, targeted to improve leg power in the long term may have an impact on healthy cognitive ageing. The research was funded jointly by the NIHR and the Wellcome Trust.

Scientists studied a sample of 324 healthy female twins from the TwinsUK volunteer registry over a ten-year period from 1999, measuring various health and lifestyle predictors. Researchers were, therefore, able to control for genetic factors affecting changes in cognitive function.

Thinking, learning and memory were measured at both the beginning and end of the study and it was found that leg power was a better predictor of cognitive change than any other lifestyle factors tested. Generally, the twin who had more leg power at the start of the study sustained their cognition better and had fewer changes associated with ageing measured after ten years.

Previous studies have shown that physical activity can have a beneficial effect on the ageing of the brain with animal studies showing that exercising muscles releases hormones that can encourage nerve cells to grow.

The study is thought to be the first that shows a specific link between power (i.e. force and speed) in the lower limbs and cognitive change in a normal, healthy population. As the legs contain the largest muscles they are of particular relevance for muscular fitness and can be exercised easily through various habitual activities such as simply standing or walking.

Fitter legs linked to a 'fitter' brain
Brain changes in identical twins discordant for leg explosive power: weaker twin

Dr Claire Steves, lead author and Senior Lecturer in Twin Research at King's College London and King's College Hospital said: 'Everyone wants to know how best to keep their brain fit as they age. Identical twins are a useful comparison, as they share many factors, such as genetics and early life, which we can't change in adulthood.

'It's compelling to see such differences in cognition and in , who had different leg power ten years before. It suggests that simple lifestyle changes to boost our physical activity may help to keep us both mentally and physically healthy.'

However, more studies are needed to better understand the relationships between measures of fitness such as leg power or aerobic capacity and brain changes, and the specific cause-and-effect of on brain structure and cognition. The mechanisms behind this association are not yet clear and could involve other factors such as age-related changes in immune function, blood circulation or nerve signaling.

The study only assessed female participants with an average age at baseline of 55 (range 43–73), so further studies would also be needed to establish whether these findings can be generalized to older or male populations.


Explore further

Strength of brain connectivity varies with fitness level in older adults

More information: Claire J. Steves et al. Kicking Back Cognitive Ageing: Leg Power Predicts Cognitive Ageing after Ten Years in Older Female Twins, Gerontology (2015). DOI: 10.1159/000441029
Citation: Fitter legs linked to a 'fitter' brain (2015, November 10) retrieved 18 June 2019 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2015-11-fitter-legs-linked-brain.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.
2155 shares

Feedback to editors

User comments

RMQ
Nov 10, 2015
It has been found before a positive correlation between thigh size and brain function in older people. It was hypothesized that it was related to the cardiovascular effort required to develop muscle in the thighs.

Nov 15, 2015
If you look at the traditional exercises from Asia which claim longevity benefits ( Taijiquan, Baguazhang, Xingyiquan, Yoga), you see an emphasis on strength and flexibility training in the legs from static and dynamic/moving postures. I wonder why research is largely ignorant of the pre-existing science?

Nov 16, 2015
Very Interesting - Thanks.

Please make your articles available for us to share on Linked In.

Thank You.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more