Stronger leg muscles are linked to better brain ageing, a new study finds.
It’s the first time a connection has been found between power in the lower limbs and healthy ageing in normal people.
The study suggests that increasing levels of simple exercises like walking or even standing for longer may lead to healthy cognitive ageing.
The study followed 324 identical female twins over a ten-year period.
Fitness and lifestyle habits were measured by researchers.
They also gave the twins tests of memory, learning and thinking at the start and end of the study.
Genetic factors were controlled for because identical twins have identical genes.
Leg power was the best predictor of healthy cognitive ageing out of all the factors the researchers measured.
In general, the twin which had the strongest leg power at the start of the study maintained stronger mental abilities ten years later.
The twin with stronger legs also maintained the most amount of grey matter in the brain.
The legs contain the largest muscles in the body so they are of particular relevance to fitness.
Dr Claire Steves, who led the research said:
“Everyone wants to know how best to keep their brain fit as they age.
Identical twins are a useful comparison, as they share many factors, such as genetics and early life, which we can’t change in adulthood.
It’s compelling to see such differences in cognition and brain structure in identical twins, who had different leg power ten years before.
It suggests that simple lifestyle changes to boost our physical activity may help to keep us both mentally and physically healthy.”
The study was published in the journal Gerontology (Steves et al., 2015).
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Walking image from Shutterstock