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The World Health Organization promotes physical exercise and a healthy lifestyle as means to improve youth development. However, relationships between physical lifestyle and human brain development are not fully understood. Here, we asked whether a human 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 d 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 gray 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.Significance Statement An active lifestyle is key for healthy development. In this work, we answer the following question: How do brain neuroimaging markers relate with young adolescents' level of physical activity, fitness, and physical health? Combining advanced whole-brain multimodal MRI metrics with computational approaches, we show a robust relationship between physically active lifestyles and spatially extended, multimodal brain imaging-derived phenotypes. Suggesting a wider effect on brain neuroimaging metrics than previously thought, this work underlies the importance of studying physical lifestyle, as well as other brain-body relationships in an effort to foster brain health at this crucial stage in development.

Original publication




Journal article


J Neurosci

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