In a new study, researchers found physical fitness is linked to better brain structure and brain functioning in young adults.
This opens the possibility that increasing fitness levels may lead to improved cognitive ability, such as memory and problem solving, as well as improved structural changes in the brain.
The research was conducted by a team of German scientists.
Scientists have previously shown that “exercise is good for the brain,” but most studies have not controlled for underlying causes which might give distorted results, such as body weight, blood glucose levels, education status, age, and other factors, making it difficult to take an overall view of the benefits.
In addition, studies have rarely looked at fitness in relations to both brain structure and mental functioning.
In the study, the team used a publicly available database of 1206 MRI brain scans from the Human Connectome Project, which had been contributed by volunteers who wanted to contribute to scientific research.
The volunteers (average age 30 years old) underwent some additional testing.
The first test was a “two-minute walking test,” where each person was asked to walk as fast as possible for 2 minutes and the distance was then measured.
The volunteers then underwent a series of cognitive tests, to measure such things as memory, sharpness, judgment, and reasoning.
The team found better performance on a 2-minute walking test in young healthy adults is linked to h better cognitive performance, and with the structural integrity of the white matter in the brain:
Healthy white matter is known to improve the speed and quality of nerve connections in the brain.
The team also found even in a young population cognitive performance decreases as fitness levels drop. This can happen in 30-year-olds.
The team believes that a basic level of fitness seems to be a preventable risk factor for brain health.
The study stresses the importance of physical activity at all stages of life and as preliminary recent evidence suggests one can start improving physical health even in later life even if one has never trained before (see reference).
The lead author of the study is Dr. Jonathan Repple (University Hospital Muenster, Germany).
The study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.
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