Physical fitness improves cognitive performance

Physical fitness improves cognitive performance

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A healthier brain through exercise?

There is a link between good physical fitness and improved cognitive performance. Such an increase in mental strength is related to the integrity of the white matter, according to a recent study.

The University of Münster's study found that physical fitness has a strong impact on cognitive performance. The results of the study were published in the scientific reports published in English.

How does physical fitness affect the brain?

In recent years there has been an intense study of how physical fitness can affect the mind. For example, various studies have shown that physical fitness can reduce the risk of dementia and relieve depressive symptoms. There is also evidence that physical activity increases the cognitive performance of healthy people, people of different ages, and participants with cognitive impairments. Similarly, some studies have found positive associations between physical fitness and changes in brain structure.

Limitations on previous studies

However, previous studies had certain limitations. In some cases, for example, they did not consider variables that could play an important role. There have rarely been studies examining the associations between physical fitness, white matter integrity and several different cognitive areas at the same time. The new study tried to fill some of the existing gaps. Using a large sample of healthy people, the researchers again examined the relationships between physical fitness, brain structure and a variety of cognitive factors.

What kind of tests were done?

The researchers analyzed data from the Human Connectome project, which includes MRI brain scans of 1,206 adults with an average age of 28.8 years. Some of the participants also went through further tests. A total of 1,204 participants completed a walking test in which they walked as fast as they could for two minutes. The researchers then noted the distance covered. A total of 1,187 participants also completed cognitive tests. Among other things, the memory, reasoning and judgment of the participants were examined.

Cognitive performance decreases at a young age as fitness decreases

It was found that people who performed better in the 2-minute walk test, except for a cognitive task, performed significantly better. It is important that this relationship was significant even after checking a number of factors, including BMI, blood pressure, age, level of education and gender, the researchers explain. The team showed that this cognitive improvement at higher fitness levels was associated with an improvement in the structural integrity of white matter.

Using a large sample of healthy young adults, this research provides evidence of a positive relationship between physical fitness and the white matter microstructure, as well as cognitive performance. The cognitive performance decreases with falling fitness even at a young age, the researchers report. This suggests that poor fitness appears to be an avoidable risk factor for brain health. Because the tests were run at a specific time, it is not apparent how fitness and cognitive skills change over time. Future studies will have to determine whether increasing an individual's fitness level also increases cognitive skills. (as)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Nils Opel, Stella Martin, Susanne Meinert, Ronny Redlich, Verena Enneking et al .: White matter microstructure mediates the association between physical fitness and cognition in healthy, young adults, in Scientific Reports (query: 16.09.2019), Scientific Reports

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