Fit legs equal healthy brain – study


OLDER WOMEN with strong legs have a better brain performance, a new study suggests. In the research, Kicking Back Cognitive Ageing: Leg Power Predicts Cognitive Ageing after Ten Years in Older Female Twins, a team from King’s College London aimed to test whether muscle fitness — measured by leg power — could predict cognitive change in a healthy older population over a 10-year period, how this performed alongside other predictors of cognitive ageing, and whether this effect was confounded by factors shared by twins.

They investigated whether differences in leg power were predictive of differences in brain structure and function after 12 years of follow-up in identical twin pairs.

They write: “Many observational studies have shown a protective effect of physical activity on cognitive ageing, but interventional studies have been less convincing. This may be due to short time scales of interventions, suboptimal interventional regimes or lack of lasting effect. Confounding through common genetic and developmental causes is also possible”.

The scientists measured various health and lifestyle predictors of 324 healthy female twins aged between 43 and 73 over a 10-year period from 1999.

They found a striking protective relationship between muscle fitness and both 10-year cognitive change and subsequent total grey matter.

According to King’s College London, they measured thinking, learning and memory at both the beginning and end of the study and 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 brain changes associated with ageing measured after 10 years.

The researchers conclude: “Interventions targeted to improve leg power in the long term may help reach a universal goal of healthy cognitive ageing”.