Well, this isn't something I have cooked up. I read it in the news today: "Sich bewegen bringt doppelt Segen" (to take exercise is a double blessing). The article is based on a scientific study carried out in Sweden and claims that sport increases intelligence and slows down aging.
"Cardiovascular fitness is associated with cognition in young adulthood" (2009, abstract, full text). I just copied some of the results:
"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). [...] 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. [...] Cardiovascular fitness, as measured by ergometer cycling, positively associated with intelligence after adjusting for relevant confounders [...] 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 less than 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."So let our young people cycle (to school)!
A caveat: It would be reasonable to infer from this study that cycling in the teen years will improve intellectual performance in young adulthood. But that isn't exactly what this study showed. Not to quibble, but the "cycling" mentioned in the abstract quoted above refers to a stationary cycling machine that the experimenters used in order to measure cardiovascular fitness. It isn't necessarily the case that the people they studied became fit through cycling. In other words, this study shows that any regimen of vigorous aerobic exercise will likely improve cognition in the age span studied---cycling included. Running and swimming would probably have the same effect.
I saw those cycling pavement painting directions in Vienna. It supports the hypothesis - you have to get pretty smart to figure out where to go!
The exercise can't hurt, either.
Running and swimming would be helpful. However, I imagine that something like cycling would provide some other stimuli that could make it a superior activity. Not only are you physically active but you have to be mentally active as well to stay safe, to utilize the mental map of your surroundings, to interpret constantly changing information about the objects around you, constant adjustments of balance and effort to maintain consistent speed... riding involves all the senses so it engages all of the brain.
@ caveat: Yeah, it's true that the study didn't show that people became fit or intelligent through cycling, only the test was carried out this way. However, cycling is a way of exercise to improve fitness and hence one (of many) ways to maintain a healthy body and mind. Since this blog is about cycling, I just wanted to point out what cycling can be good for :). Didn't claim that there is only one way to achieve this. I'm also not an expert on medical things, so I just cited what they had written. There might also be some points in the study itself that one could argue about. But one would have to read all this more carefully to make remarks, and I don't have the time to do so... Well, just the title tries to be catchy, I admit. I hope the rest is more or less neutral.
Cycling is the one exercise activity that I can manage to do almost every day. I have to get to work anyway, so I have no excuse not to :)
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