Mumbai: The most detailed study concludes that there are links between physical fitness and improved cognitive performance. The researchers also show that this improvement in mental powers is associated with white matter integrity. Recent studies have concluded that physical fitness can reduce the risk of dementia, relieve depressive symptoms, and more.
Similarly, some studies have shown positive links between physical fitness and changes in brain structure.
As an example, researchers could associate low levels of physical fitness with higher blood pressure. If a study finds that high physical fitness has links with cognitive abilities, scientists could argue that in fact, it is lower blood pressure that boosts cognitive power.
A fresh look at fitness and the brain
Scientists from University Hospital Muenster in Germany, Using a large sample of healthy people, the scientists retested the links between physical fitness, brain structure, and a wide range of cognitive domains, they also wanted to ensure that they accounted for as many confounding variables as possible. Additionally, the scientists wanted to understand whether the link between cognitive ability and physical fitness was associated with white matter integrity.
“White matter in the brain relays messages between disparate parts of the brain and coordinates communication throughout the organ”.
The researcher for investigation took data from the Human Connectome Project, which includes MRI brain scans from 1,206 adults with an average age of 28.8. In total, 1,204 participants completed a walking test in which they walked as quickly as they could for 2 minutes. The researchers noted the distance.
A total of 1,187 participants also completed cognitive tests. In these, the scientists assessed the volunteers’ memory, reasoning, sharpness, and judgment, among other parameters.
Overall, the researchers showed that individuals who performed better in the 2-minute walking test also performed significantly better in all but one of the cognitive tasks.
Importantly, this relationship was significant even after controlling for a range of factors, including BMI, blood pressure, age, education level, and sex.
The researchers also associated this cognitive improvement with higher levels of fitness with improvements in the structural integrity of white matter.
“It surprised us to see that even in a young population cognitive performance decreases as fitness levels drop,” says lead researcher Dr. Jonathan Repple.
“This leads us to believe that a basic level of fitness seems to be a preventable risk factor for brain health.”
Dr. Repple explains that “normally when you are dealing with MRI work, a sample of 30 is pretty good, but the existence of this large MRI database allowed us to eliminate possibly misleading factors and strengthened the analysis considerably.”
How this interaction might be different in older populations or people with mental health conditions will require further work.
Future studies will need to ask whether increasing an individual’s level of fitness also increases cognitive ability.
In previous studies, it is becoming increasingly clear that there are strong links between physical fitness and mental agility.