Yes, it’s true. A recent study by researchers at King’s College London found that leg muscle fitness is “strongly associated” with healthy cognitive aging. In other words, stronger leg muscles means a stronger brain.
Although the study doesn’t deal with cycling specifically, there can be little doubt that cycling is one of the best ways (and most enjoyable ways) of developing leg muscles. Look at any group of dedicated cyclists, and you’ll see lots of bulging leg muscles. And now we know that if we could see through their skulls, we would also see bugling brains, or, in the parlance of the scientific study, “greater grey matter volumes”.
The researchers’ findings aren’t based on some hokey-pokey study. The study involved 324 healthy female twins (ages 43 to 73) over a 10 year period. The study also controlled for a variety of factors including blood pressure, diet and alcohol habits, reading IQ, and socioeconomic status. The scientists even conducted magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans on some of the participants.
The end result is that the twin sister with the more powerful legs generally had healthier brains and better cognitive abilities at the end the study period. For example, on average, the more muscularly powerful twin performed about 18 percent better on memory and other cognitive tests, and had significantly more brain volume than the weaker sister.
Apparently, more experiments will be needed to understand exactly how stronger muscles translate into stronger brains. However, the lead scientist in the study, Dr. Steves, speculates that muscles release biochemicals that promote cellular health in the brain.
So there you have it: scientific proof that cycling keeps you smarter (at least if you are a women, – hopefully the results also apply to men).
There is another study that also took place at King’s College London that found fewer signs of aging when looking at more than 120 cyclists (ages of 55 and 79) over a two day period in a laboratory setting.
Combine this with the study about smarter brains, and we have to ask:
Why aren’t more people cycling? (…it’s a no brainer.)