“We have also shown that those youngsters who improve their physical fitness between the ages of 15 and 18 increase their cognitive performance,“ says Maria Åberg, researcher at the Sahlgrenska Academy and physician at Åby health centre. “This being the case, physical education is a subject that has an important place in schools, and is an absolute must if we want to do well in maths and other theoretical subjects.”
The study involved 1.2 million Swedish men doing military service who were born between 1950 and 1976. The research group analysed the results of both physical and IQ tests when the men enrolled.
The study shows a clear link between good physical fitness and better results for the IQ test. The strongest links are for logical thinking and verbal comprehension. But it is only fitness that plays a role in the results for the IQ test, and not strength.
If the link between fitness and intelligence were entirely due to genes and upbringing, the researchers note, they wouldn’t find an association among pairs of identical twins. However, the correspondence between cardiovascular fitness and intelligence scores remained strong. Thus the link between fitness and intelligence appears to arise mainly from environmental factors.
Aberg et al. (2009) Cardiovascular fitness is associated with cognition in young adulthood. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0905307106