Building Your Legs While Building Your Brain

More cardio, deadlifts, and lunges? After hearing the results you may want to amp it up at your local gym. A recent study shows that increased physical activity can be good for cognitive health and slow the mental aging process. A test was performed over the course of 10 years including over 300 female twins, which provided the final results.

leg picture
Photograph provided by the BBC website

Gretchen Reynolds outlines in the New York Times the study of British twins that was published in Gerontology by Dr. Claire Steves. This study showed the correlation between physical and mental health. There are multiple factors that play into someones mental well-being including their genes, early home environment and exercise patterns. This is why twins were so important to the study.

“Twins typically share the same early home environment and many of the same genes, and if they are identical, all their genes are the same. So if one twin’s body, brain and thinking abilities begin to differ substantially over the years from the other’s, the cause is less likely to be solely genetic or the early environment, and more likely to be attributable to lifestyle, including exercise habits.”

via Brawn and Brains – NYTimes.com

The study pulled 162 healthy, middle aged, female twin sets from the TwinUK registry and focused on their leg’s strength. This is because the legs are the largest muscle in the body and are an indication of healthy aging.

“Leg power was measured (at the start of the study) using a modified piece of gym equipment that measured both speed and power of leg extension, while brain power was measured (at both the start and the end of the study) using computerized tasks that tested memory and mental processing skills.”

via Fit Legs Equals Fit Brain – BBC.com

The twins had examinations of their brains using computerized tests ten years previously. More recently, they visited another laboratory and had similar tests ran. Dr. Steves and her colleagues concluded that those who had sturdier legs ten years ago had the least amount of cognitive health decline.

“A muscularly powerful twin now performed about 18 percent better on memory and other cognitive tests than her weaker sister. Similarly, in the brain imaging of the identical twins, if one genetically identical twin had had sturdier legs than the other at the start of the study, she now displayed significantly more brain volume and fewer empty spaces in the brain than her weaker sister,” Dr. Steves said.

via Brawn and Brains – NYTimes.com

Alzheimer’s Society director of research Dr. Doug Brown stated that the results of the tests contributed to the evidence that physical health and activity helped brain function. Whether or not it can reduce the risks of dementia still remains unclear.

Now if only leg day wasn’t so dreadful…

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