A large study out of Europe has linked physical fitness with healthy brains and better cognitive performance. The research was recently presented at the ECNP Congress in Copenhagen, where German scientists detailed the results of analyzing more than 1200 MRI brain scans collected under the Human Connectome Project, a very large database compared to many studies that involve MRI scans.
Though past studies have looked into the potential links between physical fitness and brain health or cognitive performance, few have looked at both of those categories while accounting for other potentially influential factors like age and BMI. The researchers found, among other things, that low fitness levels can have a noticeable impact on cognitive performance even in young adults.
Participants in the study had an average age of 30 years. In addition to contributing MRI brain scans, the volunteers underwent two simple tests: a two-minute walking test during which time they were instructed to walk as fast as they could, then cognitive tests to determine their level of mental performance in areas like sharpness and memory.
After analyzing the results, as well as the MRIs, the researchers found that higher fitness levels were associated with healthier white matter in the brain and better performance on cognitive tests. The results were called surprising considering the young age of the volunteers who participated in the study.
This study isn’t able to answer an important question, however: will improving someone’s fitness level lead to a similar improvement in cognitive performance and brain health? The team plans to conduct future research to determine whether that is the case. Existing research indicates the potential for improvement in both categories, underscoring the importance of remaining physically active.