Good news for women with strong legs: your brain will age better

Lindsey Vonn tears into a race course on her strong legs.
Lindsey Vonn tears into a race course on her strong legs.
Image: Reuters/Christian Hartmann
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A study of twins and their thighs shows an unexpected connection between fit legs and brainpower in women: the stronger your legs are when you’re young, the more likely you will be a sharp old lady.

Scientists from Kings College London studied a group of over 162 pairs of older female twins over the span of ten years, comparing their “leg explosive power,” a widely-acknowledged measure of physical fitness while aging, with their cognitive skills. In the study, appropriately called “Kicking Back Cognitive Ageing,” published Nov. 10 in the journal Gerontology, they found ”consistent and strong evidence” that increased leg power was associated with better cognitive aging, and with larger volumes of grey matter. The twin who had stronger legs at the beginning of study demonstrated better cognition and fewer brain changes than her sister, a decade later, even after controlling for some lifestyle factors.

The bottom line: ”We think leg strength is a marker of the kind of physical activity that is good for your brain,” lead researcher Claire Steves tells the BBC. 

Such studies are difficult to carry out on the general population, as some people are genetically blessed and may have stronger legs or better cognitive skills to begin with, but using twins allows researchers to control for both genes and upbringing.

Scientists are not sure what mechanisms are at work behind the link, however, something that they leave for further research. The study also does not look at the connection between muscular health and dementia. What it does, however, is provide motivation for doing more squats and crunches, concluding: ”Interventions targeted to improve leg power in the long term may help reach a universal goal of healthy cognitive ageing.”