Better cardiovascular health among teenage boys correlates to higher scores on a range of intelligence tests – and more education and income later in life – according to a new study at USC.
The study by Nancy Pedersen of the University of Southern California, is the first to correlate In the first study to demonstrate a clear positive association between adolescent fitness and adult cognitive performance. Pedersen and a team of Swedish researchers looked at data for 1.2 million Swedish men born between 1950 and 1976.
Muscle strength isn't the secret
In every measure of cognitive functioning they analyzed – from verbal ability to logical performance to geometric perception to mechanical skills – average test scores increased according to aerobic fitness.
However, scores on intelligence tests did not increase along with muscle strength, the researchers found.
"Positive associations with intelligence scores were restricted to cardiovascular fitness, not muscular strength," Pedersen explained, "supporting the notion that aerobic exercise improved cognition through the circulatory system influencing brain plasticity."
The results of the study in PNAS Early Edition also show the importance of getting healthier between the ages of 15 and 18 while the brain is still changing.
Boys who improved their cardiovascular health between ages 15 to 18 exhibited significantly greater intelligence scores than those who became less healthy over the same time period. Over a longer term, boys who were most fit at the age of 18 were more likely to go to college than their less fit counterparts.