Programme no. 437-OP
Epidemiological studies of the importance of cardiovascular fitness for cognitive ability and neuroprotection.
1Centre for Brain Repair and Rehabilitation,Institute for Neuroscience and Physiology,Gothenburg,Sweden
* = Presenting author
Objectives: To determine whether physical exercise at 18 years of age, as indexed by cardiovascular fitness, is associated with cognitive performance; to determine whether cardiovascular fitness at 18 years of age predicts future cognitive achievements and future risk of mental illness, epilepsy, stroke and early-onset dementia.
Background: Cardiovascular fitness is associated with positive effects on multiple aspects of brain function and cognition. Studies report benefits of long-term, regular physical activity on later cognition and brain health. However, several of these studies have relatively short follow-up times or lack objective measures by relying on self-reported questionnaires.
Results: We have shown in twin models that physical fitness and cognitive ability at 18 years of age are positively correlated and that the association is not determined by genetic factors (Åberg et al., 2009). Our data also demonstrate that poorer physical fitness at 18 years of age leads to an increased risk of depression, suicide, epilepsy, stroke and dementia later in life (Åberg et al., 2012, Åberg et al., 2014, Nyberg et al., 2013, Nyberg et al., 2014). The highest risks were observed for individuals with a combination of low cardiovascular fitness and cognitive performance.
Material/Methods: We performed a population-based, cohort study of over 1.1 million Swedish male conscripts who were followed for up to 42 years. Data on cardiovascular fitness and cognitive performance were collected during conscription exams and linked with the Swedish Twin Register, national databases for information on school achievement, socioeconomic status and hospital registers to calculate later risk of mental illness, epilepsy, stroke and early-onset dementia using Cox proportional hazards models controlling for several confounders.
Conclusion: These findings indicate the importance of cardiovascular exercise during adolescence for cognitive capabilities and future brain health. From a public health perspective and from a lifetime perspective the issues of how physical activity, fitness and IQ are related over time to cognition and neuroprotection are central to obtain answers for, so that we can have a good basis for future prevention and intervention.
Points for discussion:
- Although the results in the present population-based prospective study are compelling there are possible confounders that have not been accounted for.
- The adolescence is a crucial time for the development of higher brain functions. In addition it is in this age group that mental illness is currently rising the most.
- Physical fitness is not static, but could be affected by changes in life-style. Therefore, it is also important to investigate if a change in physical fitness affects cognition and neuroprotection later in life.