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Study in twins shows fitter legs linked to slower brain aging

December 29, 2015

Muscle fitness as measured by power in the legs is strongly associated with a decreased rate of aging in the brain, according to researchers at Kings College London.

The study, published Nov. 10 in the journal Gerontology, suggests simple interventions, such as increased levels of walking, targeted to improve leg power in the long term might affect healthy cognitive aging.

Scientists studied a sample of 324 healthy female twins from the TwinsUK volunteer registry for a 10-year period starting in 1999, measuring various health and lifestyle predictors. This cohort allowed researchers to control for genetic factors affecting changes in cognitive function.

Thinking, learning and memory were measured at both the beginning and end of the study, and researchers found leg explosive 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 aging measured after 10 years, findings showed.

Past studies have shown physical activity can have a beneficial effect on the aging of the brain with animal studies showing that exercising muscles releases hormones that can encourage nerve cells to grow.

The study is thought to be the first that shows a specific link between power (i.e. force and speed) in the lower limbs and cognitive change in a normal, healthy population, according to a news release. As the legs contain the largest muscles, they are of particular relevance for muscular fitness and can be exercised easily through activities such as simply standing or walking.

“Everyone wants to know how best to keep their brain fit as they age,” lead author Claire Steves, PhD, senior lecturer in twin research at King’s College London and King’s College Hospital

said in the release. “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 10 years before. It suggests that simple lifestyle changes to boost our physical activity may help to keep us both mentally and physically healthy.”

However, the researchers note more studies are needed to better understand the relationships between measures of fitness such as leg power or aerobic capacity and brain changes, and the specific cause-and-effect of physical activity on brain structure and cognition. They point out the mechanisms behind this association are not yet clear and could involve other factors such as age-related changes in immune function, blood circulation or nerve signaling.

The study only assessed female participants with an average age of 55 at the start of the study, so further studies also would be needed to determine whether these findings can be generalized to older or male populations.

The research was funded jointly by the British National Institute for Health Research and the Wellcome Trust.

Full study: https://www.karger.com/Article/Pdf/441029

(Source: blog.todayinpt.com)


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