Muscle fitness as measured by power in the legs is associated with an improved rate of ageing in the brain, suggests a study published in Gerontology. Researchers at King’s College London suggest that simple interventions, such as increased levels of walking, targeted to improve leg power in the long term may have an impact on healthy cognitive ageing.
The study sampled 324 healthy female twins from the TwinsUK volunteer registry over a ten-year period from 1999, measuring various health and lifestyle predictors. Only female participants with an average age at baseline of 55 (range 43-73) were assessed. Researchers were able to control for genetic factors affecting changes in cognitive function.
They measured thinking, learning and memory at both the beginning and end of the study and it was found that leg power was a better predictor of cognitive change than any other lifestyle factors tested. Generally, the twin who had more leg power at the start of the study sustained their cognition better and had fewer brain changes associated with ageing measured after ten years.
Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Society said: “This study adds to the growing evidence that physical activity can help you to look after your brain as well as your body, however we still don’t fully understand how this relationship works and how we can maximise the benefit.
“By identifying which aspects of fitness and physical activity are important for the brain’s health we hope to be able to offer more specific advice on how you can reduce the risk of dementia.
“While the results from this study will be able to inform future trials investigating the role of exercise, none of the women in this study developed dementia in the 10 year monitoring period. We have yet to see if the improvements in memory tests actually translate into a reduced risk of dementia.”