A study conducted by Danish researchers at the Center for Healthy Aging and the Department of Public Health at the University of Copenhagen reveals a distinct association between male intelligence in early adulthood and subsequent midlife physical performance. The results were published in the Journal of Aging and Health.
Independence is one of our main concerns as we reach old age, and being in good physical shape is one of the keys to achieving this goal. Scientists employ a range of tests to measure physical performance, including handgrip strength, balance and chair-rises, all tests that were used in this study.
Previous studies have demonstrated that exercise, health status and socio-economics influence physical performance. Yet none had analysed the relationship between intelligence levels and physical performance until now.
"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," says PhD student Rikke Hodal Meincke from the Center for Healthy Aging and the Department of Public Health.
To arrive at their conclusions, the researchers studied the association between male intelligence in early adulthood and their subsequent physical performance, aged 48-56. The study comprised 2 848 Danish males born in 1953 and in 1959-61.
What they found was that a 10-point increase in intelligence score resulted in a 0.5 kg increase in lower back force, a 1cm increase in jumping height, an expression of leg muscle power, a 0.7 kg increase in hand-grip strength, 3.7% improved balance and 1.1 more chair-rises in 30 seconds.
Beneficial for older people
"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," elaborates Rikke Hodal Meincke.
The results of this study are important for the future planning and targeting of initiatives that may help improve or maintain elderly people's physical performance, thus possibly extending their lives.