A team of experts from Monash University in Australia has carried out the world’s first study on the impact of childhood fitness and obesity on cognition in midlife. And the relationship is important. Researchers looked at more than 1,200 people since 1985 and for more than 30 years and found that better performance on physical tests is linked to better cognition later in life and may protect against dementia later in life.
The scientists wanted to emphasize that the results of the study are not affected by academic ability and socioeconomic status in childhood, or by tobacco and alcohol consumption in middle age. They only have to do with physical activity.
Physically active children have better health outcomes later in life
The research has been published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. It outlines how children who develop muscular strength, cardiorespiratory fitness and endurance due to sport and activity are known to have better health outcomes later in life. Higher fitness in adults is also associated with better cognition and a lower risk of dementia later in life.
The participants, aged 7 to 15 years in 1985, were followed for cardiorespiratory function, muscle power, muscular endurance, and anthropometry. Then, between 2017 and 2019 (when they had an average age of 44), their cognitive function was analyzed through a series of tests.
The researchers found that children with the highest levels of cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness and a lower waist-to-hip ratio had higher scores at midlife on tests of processing speed and attention, as well as global cognitive function.
Because a decline in cognitive performance can begin in midlife, and lower cognition in midlife has been associated with a higher chance of developing mild cognitive impairment and dementia in later life, experts believe it’s important to identify these factors that may protect against cognitive decline later in life.
“Developing strategies that improve poor physical fitness and reduce obesity levels in childhood is important because it could contribute to improving cognitive performance in midlife,” they say.
“Importantly, the study also indicates that protective strategies against future cognitive decline can begin as early as childhood, so that the brain can develop sufficient reserve against the development of conditions such as dementia in old age.”