By Michelle Arthurs-Brennan
16th November 2015
The research piece carried out by King's Collect London concluded that women who took part in activities which targeted leg strength suffered fewer mental impacts of ageing.
Scientists studied a sample of 324 female identical twins over a ten year period, measuring health and lifestyle predictors. Thinking, learning and memory were measured at the start and end of the study, and it was found that of all lifestyle factors tested, leg power was the best predictor of change in the brain.
The twin with the most leg power at the start of the study maintained the most mental ability whilst the weaker twin suffered the most from the cognitive effects of ageing.
The scientists said the relationship between leg strength and slower ageing of the brain was "striking" and concluded: "Leg power predicts both cognitive ageing and global brain structure, despite controlling for common genetics and early life environment shared by twins. Interventions targeted to improve leg power in the long term may help reach a universal goal of healthy cognitive ageing."
Previous studies have shown similar results - with investigations using animals finding that exercising muscles release hormones that encourage nerve cells to grow, but this is the first study that investigates the link between power and the brain.
Leg muscles were used because they are the largest and can be exercised easily - through standing, walking, or indeed cycling.
Dr. Claire Steve's, lead author and Senior Lecturer in Twin Research at King's College London and King's College Hospital said: "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.
"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."
The researchers say that more work needs to be carried out to better understand the findings, and they hope to extend the study across the genders with a male sample group too.
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