There is good news out of the United Kingdom for all of those walkers and fitness enthusiasts out there! A recent 10-year study that looked at 324 healthy female twins from the UK found a positive link between higher fitness, specifically of the legs, and a decreased rate of aging in the brain.1
The researchers were looking specifically at something called leg explosive power, or LEP, to measure the fitness levels of the participants legs.1 For those readers out there who aren’t physics nerds like me, power takes two measurements into account: force, how much a person can push, and velocity, how fast a person can push. To measure cognitive ability, the researchers put the participants through standardized thinking, learning, and memory tests.1 Also, there were twenty pairs of twins that underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs) so that the researchers could actually see their brains and look at different areas of the brain for signs of aging.1
A special thing to note about this study is the benefit of using twins, which meant that the researchers could control for genetic factors and early development factors that may confound cognitive function later in life.1 Most research studies do not have this benefit, which makes the results of this study more powerful.
The researchers basically found that, of the twin pairs studied, the twin that had more leg power at the start of the study maintained their cognition better and had fewer brain changes that displayed aging on an MRI after 10 years.1 This study suggests that treatment biased toward improving leg power may be beneficial for your brain health.1 So, the next time you are sweating and wondering why we are making you focus so much on your form during your squats, remind yourself that you are attempting to keep your brain healthy and strong! If you have any questions regarding this research or you want to speak to a physical therapist about a safe way to improve your leg power, call us to schedule an appointment with one of our specialized PTs today.
1. Steves CJ, Mehta MM, Jackson SHD, Spector TD. Kicking Back Cognitive Ageing: Leg Power Predicts Cognitive Ageing after Ten Years in Older Female Twins. Gerontology Online Publication DOI: 10.1159/000441029. 2015: 1-12.