Cardio = higher IQ (?)

By Razib Khan | December 7, 2009 4:33 am

Cardiovascular fitness is associated with cognition in young adulthood:

During early adulthood, a phase in which the central nervous system displays considerable plasticity and in which important cognitive traits are shaped, the effects of exercise on cognition remain poorly understood. We performed a cohort study of all Swedish men born in 1950 through 1976 who were enlisted for military service at age 18 (N = 1,221,727). Of these, 268,496 were full-sibling pairs, 3,147 twin pairs, and 1,432 monozygotic twin pairs. Physical fitness and intelligence performance data were collected during conscription examinations and linked with other national databases for information on school achievement, socioeconomic status, and sibship. Relationships between cardiovascular fitness and intelligence at age 18 were evaluated by linear models in the total cohort and in subgroups of full-sibling pairs and twin pairs. Cardiovascular fitness, as measured by ergometer cycling, positively associated with intelligence after adjusting for relevant confounders (regression coefficient b = 0.172; 95% CI, 0.168-0.176). Similar results were obtained within monozygotic twin pairs. In contrast, muscle strength was not associated with cognitive performance. Cross-twin cross-trait analyses showed that the associations were primarily explained by individual specific, non-shared environmental influences (≥80%), whereas heritability explained <15% of covariation. Cardiovascular fitness changes between age 15 and 18 y predicted cognitive performance at 18 y. Cox proportional-hazards models showed that cardiovascular fitness at age 18 y predicted educational achievements later in life. These data substantiate that physical exercise could be an important instrument for public health initiatives to optimize educational achievements, cognitive performance, as well as disease prevention at the society level.

IQphys.pngThe figure to the left is pretty striking, though the general correlation between intelligence and overall health has been long known. I’m not too sure if I really accept that this correlation is as causal as they say it is, but it probably can’t hurt to encourage for moderate exercise within the population. So even if this is another spurious correlation which leads to educational programs which don’t have the effect intended (increase IQ), it wouldn’t do that much harm, and perhaps might result in some good.
Citation: Maria A. I. Åberg, Nancy L. Pedersen, Kjell Torén, Magnus Svartengren, Björn Bäckstrand, Tommy Johnsson, Christiana M. Cooper-Kuhn, N. David Åberg, Michael Nilsson, and H. Georg Kuhn, Cardiovascular fitness is associated with cognition in young adulthood, PNAS 2009 : 0905307106v1-pnas.0905307106.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cognitive Science, Culture
  • csrster

    I would have thought it was at least as likely that the causation went in the opposite direction (intelligent people deciding to get fit).
    Still, it does make you wonder where all the highly unfit nerds (and brain-dead jocks) have gone. Stereotypes just ain’t what they used to be.

  • http://akinokure.blogspot.com agnostic

    Yeah but that cohort of Swedes had great music by ABBA to dance to, so you didn’t have to twist their arm to get them into a cardio routine.
    “Still, it does make you wonder where all the highly unfit nerds (and brain-dead jocks) have gone. ”
    The mistake is to equate high-IQ people with nerds, who are a non-representative subset of high-IQ people. High-ranking doctors, lawyers, and businessmen are really smart, but they’re not nerds. As a result, they’re not horribly out of shape, they don’t subsist on a 7-11 diet, and they aren’t afraid to talk to girls.

  • pzed

    i’m not sure i agree with agnostic. maybe nerds just get older and adjust a little.
    my doctor and lawyer friends are still nerdy in many ways. some are in shape, eat okay and aren’t afraid of talking to girls. maybe i have a different view of nerd-dom, but these are all friends i grew up with who were on the math or academic team who played video games. there aren’t many badges of nerd-dom more visible than that.but every one of us played hard at street basketball and took our lumps in backyard football. one of these nerds went to stanford and walked onto their basketball team, having never played for the high school team.
    most still play video games as a hobby and some still have nerdy quirks. some of them speak to their peers in razib-esque language, some spend ungodly hours min/maxing their video game character, and others feel more comfortable talking about hypothetical wars in minute detail than going clubbing. but they are all doctors and lawyers.

  • http://scienceblogs.com/gnxp razib

    speak to their peers in razib-esque language
    wtf is that supposed to mean dawg?

  • geok

    This discussion is quite entertaining so far! The nice thing about this study is that all cliches that you can find in a society, the nerd, the jock, the gamer, the clubber, the lawyer etc. are included in the study. It is population-based! So, if this correlation still hold with all these “extremists” included, well, then perhaps exercise has a positive effect on average Joe.

  • Sandgroper

    I think he means using a vocabulary that is unintelligibly large to mere mortals.
    In so doing, he has invented a new adjective which shall now irrevocably become part of the language.
    When I was at university, the nerds threw frisbees to each other instead of playing real sports like erm cricket.
    Incidentally, you notice that the “big three” are supposed to be medicine, law and engineering, but we poor bloody engineers are never cool or rich. Why?

  • pzed

    err, correction. the friend i said that walked onto a basketball team actually walked onto caltech and not stanford. i think they ran an 11 year losing streak, so i suppose it’s not very impressive to walk onto that team.

  • pizzaelectric

    Maybe some of us unfit nerds would rise to even godlier heights of epistemological insight if we went for a jog every now and then. After all, how do we know we know as well as we could know?

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This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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