The World Health Organization (WHO) promotes physical exercise and a healthy lifestyle as means to improve youth development. However, relationships between physical lifestyle and brain development are not fully understood. Here, we asked whether a brain – physical latent mode of covariation underpins the relationship between physical activity, fitness, and physical health measures with multimodal neuroimaging markers. In 50 12-year old school pupils (26 females), we acquired multimodal whole-brain MRI, characterizing brain structure, microstructure, function, myelin content, and blood perfusion. We also acquired physical variables measuring objective fitness levels, 7-days physical activity, body-mass index, heart rate, and blood pressure. Using canonical correlation analysis we unravel a latent mode of brain – physical covariation, independent of demographics, school, or socioeconomic status. We show that MRI metrics with greater involvement in this mode also showed spatially extended patterns across the brain. Specifically, global patterns of greater grey matter perfusion, volume, cortical surface area, greater white matter extra-neurite density, and resting state networks activity, covaried positively with measures reflecting a physically active phenotype (high fit, low sedentary individuals). Showing that a physically active lifestyle is linked with systems-level brain MRI metrics, these results suggest widespread associations relating to several biological processes. These results support the notion of close brain-body relationships and underline the importance of investigating modifiable lifestyle factors not only for physical health but also for brain health early in adolescence.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience