Fitness linked to better brain function

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The largest and most detailed study of its kind concludes that there are links between physical fitness and improved cognitive performance. Researchers also show that this increase in mental powers is associated with the integrity of white matter.

Over the past few years, a lot of research has been done on how physical fitness might influence the mind.

For example, studies have concluded that physical fitness can reduce the risk of dementia, to relieve depressive symptoms, and more.

There is also some evidence that physical activity boosts cognitive performance in healthy individuals, people of different age, and participants with cognitive impairment impairments.

Likewise, some studies have shown positive links between fitness and changes in the structure of the brain.

The authors of the latest study in this area, who published their findings in Scientific reports, note that previous studies had certain limitations.

In some cases, for example, they did not take into account variables that could play an important role.

For example, researchers might associate low levels of fitness with higher blood pressure. If a study finds that being in good physical shape has links with cognitive abilities, scientists could argue that, in fact, it’s lower blood pressure that boosts cognitive power.

The same could apply to several factors related to physical condition, such as body mass index (BMI), blood sugar and education level.

Additionally, most studies focus on just one mental performance marker at a time, such as memory.

As the authors of this study explain, “studies of associations between [physical fitness], white matter integrity and multiple differential cognitive domains simultaneously are rare. “

The latest experiment, conducted by scientists at Münster University Hospital in Germany, attempts to fill in some of the gaps. Using a large sample of healthy people, scientists retested the links between physical fitness, brain structure, and a wide range of cognitive domains.

They also wanted to make sure they took into account as many confounding variables as possible. Additionally, scientists wanted to understand whether the link between cognitive abilities and physical fitness was associated with the integrity of white matter.

White matter in the brain relays messages between disparate parts of the brain and coordinates communication throughout the organ.

To investigate, the researchers took data from the Human Connectome Project, which includes brain MRI scans of 1,206 adults with an average age of 28.8 years.

Some of these participants also underwent other tests. A total of 1,204 participants completed a walk test in which they walked as fast as they could for 2 minutes. The researchers noted the distance.

A total of 1,187 participants also took cognitive tests. In these, the scientists assessed the volunteers’ memory, reasoning, sharpness, and judgment, among other parameters.

Overall, the researchers found that people who performed better on the 2-minute walk test also performed better in all but one cognitive task.

Importantly, this relationship was significant even after controlling for a range of factors including BMI, blood pressure, age, education level, and gender.

The researchers also associated this cognitive improvement with higher levels of fitness with improvements in the structural integrity of white matter. The authors conclude:

With the present work, we provide proof of a positive relationship between [physical fitness] and both the white matter microstructure as well as the cognitive performance of a large sample of healthy young adults.

“It surprised us to see that even in a young population, cognitive performance declines as fitness levels decline,” says lead researcher Dr. Jonathan Repple.

Dr Repple continues: “We knew how important it could be in an elderly population, which is not necessarily healthy, but to see this happening in 30-year-olds is surprising.”

“This leads us to believe that a basic level of fitness appears to be a preventable risk factor for brain health.”

The current study has many strengths, including the extensive MRI database. Dr Repple explains that “normally, when it comes to MRI work, a sample of 30 is good enough, but the existence of this large MRI database has allowed us to potentially eliminate the factors. misleading and considerably strengthen the analysis ”.

However, as the researchers performed the tests at one point, it is not possible to see how physical condition and cognitive abilities change over time. It is also not possible to say that getting fitter cause an increase in cognitive abilities.

Future studies will have to ask whether increasing an individual’s level of fitness also increases their cognitive abilities.

In addition, by design, this study only looked at healthy youth. How this interaction might be different in older populations or people with mental health issues will require further work.

Based on previous studies, it is becoming increasingly clear that there are strong links between fitness and mental agility.


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