Having powerful legs might empower your brain as you grow older, researchers report.
A 10-year British study concluded that leg strength is strongly linked with healthier brain aging. Also, the King's College London team said the findings suggest that simply walking more to improve leg force and speed could help maintain brain function as you age.
The study included 324 healthy female twins, aged 43 to 73, in the United Kingdom. Their thinking, learning and memory were tested at the start and end of the study.
The researchers found that leg strength was a better predictor of brain health than any other lifestyle factor looked at in the study. Generally, the twin with more leg strength at the start of the study maintained her mental abilities better and had fewer age-related brain changes than the twin with weaker legs, the study found.
"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," study lead author Claire Steves, a senior lecturer in twin research, said in a college news release.
"It's compelling to see such differences in cognition [thinking] and brain structure in identical twins, who had different leg power 10 years before," Steves added. "It suggests that simple lifestyle changes to boost our physical activity may help to keep us both mentally and physically healthy."
The results were published Nov. 9 in the journal Gerontology.
Previous research has shown that physical activity can help brain health as people get older. And, animal studies have found that exercise releases hormones that can encourage nerve cell growth, the study authors noted.
The mechanisms behind this association aren't clear and could involve other factors such as age-related changes in immune function, blood circulation or nerve signaling, the researchers said.
Also, the research did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship between leg strength and brain health.
Further studies are needed to learn more about the potential link between leg strength and healthy brain aging, and to determine if the findings also apply to men, Steves said.