Research : How intelligence affects strength and the possibilities of poop

Nereya Otieno returns with her research column

Are you a man in your early twenties? Are you intelligent? Good news – you will probably be healthier when you reach your 50s than those with less brainpower. At least, that is a finding that the Centre for Healthy Aging and the Department of Public Health at Copenhagen University (KU) has just published in the Journal of Aging and Health.

By comparing subjects’ fitness at early adulthood and midlife, with fitness levels at childhood and end-of-life, the study is rather unique. Few studies take midlife as a reference point, but the researchers argue that this will yield better conclusions about how our childhood and adolescence affects our longevity.

“Our study clearly shows that the higher the intelligence score is in early adulthood, the stronger the participants’ back, legs and hands are in midlife,” says Centre for Healthy Aging PhD student Rikke Hodal Meincke. “Their balance is also better. The better the results of these midlife tests, the greater the chance of avoiding a decrease in physical performance in old age.”

Only men were selected for the study, as data about males is more readily available. In Denmark, all 18-year-old men have to take a military conscription test to see if they are sound physically and mentally for military service. The process includes a full health examination and a group intelligence test with a point-score system.

Using personal registration (CPR) numbers, researchers selected a sample of men from the Copenhagen Aging and Midlife Biobank and asked them to participate in a physical performance evaluation. They then compared these results with the results of their conscription tests. Their final sample consisted of 2,848 Danish males born either in 1953 or between 1959-61 who lived in or around Copenhagen.

Physical performance was judged according to seven disciplines: rising from a chair, muscle power in legs, flexibility, balance, handgrip strength, abdominal force and lower back strength. The researchers found that a 10-point advantage in the military intelligence test taken at age 18 with a 0,5 kg increase in lower back force, a 1 cm increase in jumping height, 0.7 kg increase in hand-grip strength, 3.7% improved balance and 1.1 more chair raises in 30 seconds at midlife. This may not seem like much, but these small amounts can mean a lot in the understanding of the brain-body relationship.

This association between intelligence in the early 20s and physical capabilities in midlife suggests that cognitive abilities and physical activities may share some of the same brain development processes. It also suggests that intelligence may have its own, nuanced methods of influencing the body’s powers.

Meincke states that, “Exercise can be viewed as a mechanism that explains the connection between intelligence and physical performance.”

That is to say, smart people realise both the importance of exercise in a healthy lifestyle and that getting exercise will result in better physical performance as they mature. That really breathes new life into the old idiom ‘mind over matter.’

The Possibilities of Poop
Researchers at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) have found an innovative purpose for poop. To better study the spread and origin of infectious diseases, DTU took to Copenhagen’s Kastrup Airport to take a long hard look at the excrement from passengers on international flights.

Each individual flight contains approximately 400 litres of waste – a healthy pool from which to extract data. The waste was separated into samples and sent for DNA extraction, sequencing and analysis to determine what small life forms were living in the fecal matter.

By examining the human waste from 18 international flights arriving from nine different cities in three global regions, this crew of researchers was able to gather data on which bacteria and pathogens were present, and where they were coming from.

DNA analysis of airplane excrement to discover emerging outbreaks has promising potential, according to Thomas Sicheritz-Pontén, a molecular biologist at DTU and co-author of the study, which was published in Scientific Reports last month. He explains that current methods of determining potential disease outbreaks are inefficient, time consuming and non-preventative.

“By the time you’ve detected it, you already have an epidemic,” explains Sicheritz-Pontén.

DTU’s new method is not preventative either, but it is more efficient and can predict patterns that may help to better prepare health organisations and governments before the onset of a microbial catastrophe.

For instance, from those 18 flights, the DTU researchers were able to determine that Salmonella enterica, a diarrhea-causing bacterium, was common in samples from South Asia, while Clostridium difficile, a bacterium responsible for a resilient infection spread in hospitals, was mostly present in North American samples.

Not only does this give an idea of the digestive bacteria that are most prevalent in various geographical areas, but it also provides a baseline for monitoring those bacteria.

According to a study published in The Lancet in 2012, infectious diseases cause around 22% of human deaths globally. This new method of monitoring the spread of infectious bacteria could help curb that number. M


By Nereya Otieno

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