Cardiovascular Fitness May Sharpen Mind
Study Shows Link Between Healthy Body and Academic Success
WebMD News Archive
Nov. 30, 2009 -- A healthy body may be the first step to achieving a healthy
mind and appetite for learning.
A large new study links cardiovascular fitness in
early adulthood to increased intelligence, better performance on cognitive
tests, and higher educational achievement later in life.
Researchers say the results suggest that promoting physical and
cardiovascular fitness as a public health strategy could maximize educational
achievement as well as prevent disease at the societal level.
"We believe the present results provide scientific support for educational
policies to maintain or increase physical education in school curricula as a
means to stem the growing trend toward a sedentary lifestyle, which is
accompanied by an increased risk for diseases and perhaps intellectual and
academic underachievement," write researchers Maria Aberg and colleagues of the
University of Gothenburg in Gothenburg, Sweden in the Proceedings of the
National Academy of Sciences.
The study followed more than 1 million men born in 1950 through 1976 who
were enlisted for military service in Sweden at age 18. The sample included
3,147 twin pairs, of which 1,432 were identical.
Physical fitness and intelligence were assessed at the time of conscription
and linked to national databases on school achievement and socioeconomic status
later in life.
The results showed that cardiovascular fitness, but not muscular strength,
was associated with cognitive performance on many different measures.
For example, higher scores on measures of cardiovascular fitness were linked
to higher scores on intelligence and academic achievement.
When researchers looked at
twins, they found that environmental factors rather than genetics appeared
to play the largest role in these associations. Non-shared environmental
influences accounted for 80% or more of differences in academic achievement,
whereas genetics accounted for less than 15% of these differences.
In addition, cardiovascular fitness changes between age 15 and 18 predicted
cognitive performance at age 18, and cardiovascular fitness at age 18 predicted
academic achievement and socioeconomic status later in life.
Researchers say many previous studies have linked physical fitness with
cognitive performance in animals and humans but most have focused on young
children or adults. Few studies have looked at the effect of physical and
cardiovascular fitness on academic achievement in young adulthood, a critical
period for cognitive development.