There has always been a preconception that there are two divisions of people: brainy and brawny. You see the stereotype in movies and pop-culture all the time. There are the big dumb jock and the little, scrawny nerd. What if I told you that the athletic jock was more likely to be smarter? The problem with correlating strength and smarts has always been one of an environmental nature, because no matter what a person’s genetic precursors for intelligence or strength may have bee, their developmental years may have been different in a wy that set them up for one or the other.
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With that in mind, Dr. Claire Steves at the King’s College London examined a set of 162 healthy, middle-aged, female twins from the TwinUK registry to see if the stronger twin was the smarter twin. The reason she used twins is because they are genetically as similar as two people can be, but also had the same environmental factors growing up. Basically, they had the same advantages and disadvantages in their developmental years.
In her research, Steves focused on the twins that had undergone testing 10 years earlier to analyze not only their brain function but their leg-muscle power. The thought there is that our thigh muscles are a great indicator of how strong our entire body is, no matter how often you work out. By concentrating on what the leg muscles could actually do in a test of power, the researchers didn’t have to rely on the recollection of the test subject on how often they worked out.
The 162 pairs of twins were asked to come back tot he lab and repeat the tests from 10-years-ago, and the results were pretty amazing. The 324 twins that had the strongest legs showed the least amount of mental decline. On average, the stronger twins performed 18% better on cognitive skills. Even brain scans showed that the stronger twin had more brain volume and less “empty spaces in the brain”.
Now, even though the research didn’t put a premium on the reported exercise habits of the test subjects, Steves set out to prove that given the same genetic and environmental precursors, stronger means smarter. Naturally one can assume that the twin that was stronger was more active, even if that wasn’t the case 100% of the time. Steves went on to say, “I was quite surprised by the strength of the findings because to be honest, I am someone who has always in the past prioritized work of the mind over work of the body. This study brings home to me that the brain needs exercise to keep fit.”
There you have it, brawny is brainy. So don’t skip leg day.