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Fitness, childhood IQ may affect old-age brain function

Oct. 9, 2006
Courtesy American Academy of Neurology
and World Science staff

How well your mind works in old age de­pends more on your fit­ness than on your IQ as a child, ac­cord­ing to a study in the Oct. 10 is­sue of the re­search jour­nal Neu­rol­o­gy.

Cour­te­sy City of Se­at­tle Ag­ing & Dis­a­bil­i­ty Ser­vic­es


In the re­search, 460 adults took a cog­ni­tive test at age 79 iden­ti­cal to one they had tak­en de­c­ades ago, at age 11, in a study called the Scot­tish Men­tal Sur­vey.

Re­sults showed phys­i­cal fit­ness con­tri­bu­t­ed more than three per­cent of the dif­fer­en­ces in old-age cog­ni­tive abil­i­ty, af­ter ac­count­ing for child­hood test scores, said study au­thor Ian Dea­ry of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ed­in­burgh in Scot­land. 

Fit­ness en­hanced old-age cog­ni­tive abil­i­ty more than child­hood IQ did, he added. “Thus, two peo­ple start­ing out with the same IQ at age 11, the fit­ter per­son at age 79 will, on av­er­age, have bet­ter cog­ni­tive func­tion.” 

Fit­ness was de­fined by the time it took to walk six me­ters, grip strength and lung func­tion. 

“The oth­er re­mark­a­ble re­sult,” said Dear­y, was that “par­tic­i­pants with a high IQ as a child were more like­ly to have bet­ter lung func­tion at age 79. This could be be­cause peo­ple with higher in­tel­li­gence might re­spond more fa­vor­a­bly to health mes­sages about stay­ing fit.”

Oc­cu­pa­tion and educa­tion were also as­so­ci­at­ed with old-age fit­ness, he added; bet­ter-ed­u­ca­ted peo­ple in more pro­fes­sion­al ca­reers had bet­ter fit­ness and higher men­tal test scores.


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How well your mind works in old age depends on your fitness and childhood IQ, but fitness especially, according to a study in the Oct. 10 issue of the research journal Neurology. In the research, 460 adults took a cognitive test at age 79 identical to one they had taken decades ago, at age 11, in a study called the Scottish Mental Survey. Results showed physical fitness contributed more than three percent of the differences in cognitive ability in old age after accounting for childhood test scores, said study author Ian Deary of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Fitness was defined by the time it took to walk six meters, grip strength and lung function. “The other remarkable result was that childhood IQ was significantly related to lung function at age 79,” said Deary. “Participants with a high IQ as a child were more likely to have better lung function at age 79. This could be because people with higher intelligence might respond more favorably to health messages about staying fit.” The study found fitness enhanced old-age cognitive ability more than than childhood IQ, he added. “The important result of the study is that fitness contributes to better cognitive ability in old age,” said Deary. “Thus, two people starting out with the same IQ at age 11, the fitter person at age 79 will, on average, have better cognitive function.” The study also found occupation and education were associated with old-age fitness. People in more professional careers and with more education had better fitness and higher cognitive test scores, Deary reported. That, he added, suggests that programs aimed at making older people fitter might improve cognitive aging.