Men with higher intelligence scores in early adulthood are more likely to do better in tests of physical performance in midlife, according to a new study in Denmark.
“Our study clearly shows that the higher intelligence score in early adulthood, the stronger the participants’ back, legs and hands are in midlife. Their balance is also better.
“Former studies have taught us that the better the results of these midlife tests, the greater the chance of avoiding a decrease in physical performance in old age,” said Ph.D. student Rikke Hodal Meincke from the Center for Healthy Aging and the Department of Public Health at the University of Copenhagen.
Most people are eager to keep their independence as they get older, but in order to do this, they need to be in good physical shape. This includes being able to cope with everyday physical activities such as getting dressed and carrying our own shopping.
Previous studies have found that exercise, health status, and socioeconomic background influence physical performance. Furthermore, childhood factors may also influence physical performance in later life.
For this study, researchers at the University of Copenhagen examined the link between male intelligence in early adulthood and their subsequent physical performance, aged 48-56. The participants included 2,848 Danish males born in 1953 and in 1959-61.
With each 10-point increase in intelligence score, the results revealed a 1.1 lb increase in lower back force, one cm increase in jumping height — an expression of leg muscle power — 1.5 lb increase in hand-grip strength, 3.7 percent improved balance, and 1.1 more chair-rises in 30 seconds.
“A feasible explanation for this connection between male intelligence in early adulthood and their midlife physical performance could be that people with a higher intelligence score find it easier to understand and interpret health information and thus have a healthier lifestyle, they may, for instance, exercise more regularly. Exercise can thus be viewed as a mechanism that explains the connection between intelligence and physical performance,” said Meincke.
She believes that the results are important for the future planning and targeting of initiatives that may help improve or maintain the physical performance of an older population. By way of example, this could include making it easier for everybody, regardless of abilities, to remain physically active throughout their lives.
Meinke emphasizes that more studies are needed, however, in order to examine the underlying mechanisms of why intelligence is related to physical performance.
The findings are published in the Journal of Aging and Health.
Source: University of Copenhagen