Childhood health linked to midlife cognition function

by | Drug and Alcohol, What We're Talking About

We often hear about how critical someone’s early years are to their health in later life, and a lengthy study from researchers at Monash University has added weight to the repercussions of childhood health issues in later life.

Back in the 80s, thousands of school children aged between seven and fifteen had their fitness assessed – things like their cardiorespiratory capacity, muscular power and muscular endurance, along with their waist-to-hip ratio (as a marker of overweight or obesity).

These children are now middle-aged adults, and a portion of the original cohort were followed up in 2017 and 2019 to see how they were faring. In particular, the researchers were interested in the brain health of the study participants and gave them a series of computer-based cognitive function tests, measuring things like their reaction time and visual memory.

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More than one thousand adults between the ages of 39 and 50 were tested. The researchers found there was a clear association between childhood fitness and better cognitive health in midlife. The children who were in the fittest group – scoring highly on cardio health, muscular power and endurance, were the same adults who tended to get the best brain training scores. Children who scored poorly on the different fitness tests did worse on the brain tests decades down the track. It seemed different forms of fitness were important – both muscular health and cardio capacity had an influence on midlife brain health. What’s more, these findings were independent of factors that might confound the results such as smoking, education and alcohol use.