Childhood fitness and obesity may predict various aspects of cognition later in life. The corresponding study was published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport (JSAMS) by researchers in Australia.
Previous studies have shown that children who develop muscular strength, cardiorespiratory fitness, and endurance have better health outcomes later in life. Other studies show that higher fitness levels in adulthood correlate with better cognition and reduced dementia risk later on.
In the present study, researchers used data from 1244 participants in the Australian Childhood Determinants of Adults Health study. Participants were aged between 7 and 15 years old at enrolment in 1985 and 39-50 years old at follow-up between 2017-2019.
At baseline, they were assessed for different measures of fitness: cardio-respiratory, muscular power, muscular endurance, and waist-to-hip ratio. Then, between 2017 and 2019, they were assessed for cognitive function.
From their analyses, the researchers found that participants with the highest levels of cardio-respiratory and muscular fitness, and lower average waist-to-hip ratios, tended to have higher midlife scores on processing speed and attention, alongside global cognitive function.
These results remained after accounting for factors including academic ability, socioeconomic status during childhood, and smoking and alcohol consumption in midlife. The researchers noted, however, that no associations were found for learning-working memory.
"Developing strategies that improve low fitness and decrease obesity levels in childhood are important because it could contribute to improvements in cognitive performance in midlife," said Associate Professor Michele Callisaya from the National Centre for Healthy Ageing, co-lead author of the study.
"Importantly, the study also indicates that protective strategies against future cognitive decline may need to start as far back as early childhood, so that the brain can develop sufficient reserve against developing conditions such as dementia in older life,” she added.