The researchers found that midlife scores on assessments of processing speed, attention, and overall cognitive function were higher in fit children.

World’s first study of more than 1,200 people demonstrates how youth fitness and obesity affect cognition in midlife

Better physical test scores are associated with better cognition later in life and may offer protection against dementia in later life, according to the world’s first study of the effects of fitness and obesity in children on cognition in middle age, which has followed more than 1200 people born in 1985 for more than 30 years.

Importantly, these results are not affected by academic ability, childhood socioeconomic status, or cigarette and alcohol consumption in middle age.

The groundbreaking research, led by Dr Jamie Tait and Associate Professor Michele Callisaya of Peninsula Health and Monash University in Melbourne, along with researchers from the Childhood Determinants of Adult Health project at the Menzies Institute for Medical Research at the University of Tasmania, was recently published in the Journal of science and medicine in sport.

It is well established that children who grow up participating in sports and other physical exercises have better long-term health outcomes. A higher level of fitness in adulthood is also linked to improved cognition and a lower risk of dementia in older people.

This is the first major study to examine the relationship between obesity and objectively measured fitness in childhood and cognition in middle age, with the theory that early activity levels, fitness physical and metabolic health may protect against dementia in our older years. More than 1,200 participants were followed from 1985, when they were between the ages of 7 and 15, to 2017-2019.

In 1985, 1244 participants aged 7 to 15 in the Australian Adult Determinants of Child Health Study were assessed for physical fitness (cardio-respiratory, muscular power, muscular endurance) and anthropometry (waist-hip ratio).

These participants were followed between 2017 and 2019 (39-50 years, average age 44 years) regarding their cognitive function using a series of computerized tests.

According to Associate Professor Callisaya, this is the first study to demonstrate a relationship between phenotypic profiles of objectively measured fitness and childhood obesity measures, with midlife cognition.

The researchers found that children with the highest levels of cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness and a lower average waist-to-hip ratio had higher midlife scores in tests of processing speed and attention, as well as in overall cognitive function.

Given that a decline in cognitive performance can begin as early as middle age, and lower 40s cognition has been associated with a greater likelihood of developing mild cognitive impairment and dementia at older ages, Associate Professor Callisaya says it’s important to identify factors early in life. which may protect against cognitive decline later in life.

“Developing strategies that improve low fitness and decrease obesity levels during childhood is important because it could help improve cognitive performance in midlife,” she said.

“Importantly, the study also indicates that protective strategies against future cognitive decline may need to begin in early childhood so that the brain can develop sufficient reserve against the development of conditions such as dementia in life. older.”

Reference: “Longitudinal associations of childhood fitness and obesity profiles with midlife cognitive function: an Australian cohort study” by Jamie L. Tait, Taya A. Collyer, Seana L. Gall, Costan G. Magnussen, Alison J. Venn, Terence Dwyer, Brooklyn J. Fraser, Chris Moran, Velandai K. Srikanth, and Michele L. Callisaya, July 19, 2022, Journal of science and medicine in sport.
DOI: 10.1016/j.jsams.2022.05.009

The study was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Heart Foundation.