What Do Your Legs Say About Your Brain?

First Posted: Nov 10, 2015 03:33 PM EST

It might sound sort of silly, but the muscle capacity of our legs may say something about the ageing brain, according to a recent study.

Researchers found that participants in the study with better leg power at the start showed sustained cognition and had fewer brain changes associated with ageing 10 years later.

During the study, researchers analyzed a sample of 324 healthy female twins from the TwinsUK volunteer registry over a 10-year period from 1999. They examined various health and lifestyle predictors and were able to control for genetic factors that affected changes in cognitive function by measuring learning, memory and thinking at both the beginning and the end of the study. The study results showed that leg power was a better predictor of cognitive change than any of the other lifestyle factors.

While previous studies have shown that physical activity can have beneficial effects on the ageing brain due to the release of hormones that can encourage nerve cell growth, this is the first study to show a link between power in the lower limbs and cognitive function.

"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," said lead study author Dr Claire Steves enior Lecturer in Twin Research at King's College London and King's College Hospital, in a news release. "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."

However, more studies will be needed in order to determine the relationship between fitness measures and how they may affect brain structure and cognition.

The study is published in the journal Gerontology

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