More Proof That Vigorous Workouts Boost Fluid Intelligence

Faculty in the News: Aron Barbey, Professor of Psychology, Neuroscience, and Bioengineering, Chris Zwilling, Neuroscience Postdoc

Last month, researchers from Colorado State University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign published a study (Burzynska et al. 2020) showing moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) is positively correlated with improved fluid intelligence abilities. In contrast, sedentariness appears to facilitate better cognitive abilities relating to crystallized knowledge. Arthur Kramer, formerly of UIUC's Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, was this study's senior author. (See "Moderate-to-Vigorous Exercise May Benefit Fluid Intelligence.")

Today, another new study (Zwilling et al., 2020) was published in Scientific Reports that corroborates the link between vigorous workouts and better fluid intelligence abilities. Aron Barbey, a psychology professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and director of Beckman's Decision Neuroscience Laboratory, led the research team along with postdoctoral researcher and first author Christopher Zwilling.

For this 12-week, double-blind controlled clinical trial, the researchers recruited 148 active-duty Air Force airmen who were randomly assigned to two different groups in an experiment designed to see how effectively a multimodal physical fitness regimen alone—or in conjunction with a nutritional intervention—enhanced physical and cognitive performance.

All of the Air Force airmen (N = 148) participated in a 12-week exercise program that combined strength training gym workouts and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) cardio workouts. Notably, after just three months, the researchers found that, on average, fluid intelligence scores increased by 19.5 percent after kick-starting this exercise regimen.

Twice a day during this period, one group (n = 70) of airmen also drank a specially designed nutritional beverage that has been shown to boost cognitive functions in previous studies. This nutrient-enriched beverage contained vitamin B12, an omega-3 fatty acid (DHA), lutein, phospholipids, hydroxymethyl butyrate (HMB), and selected micronutrients, including folic acid.

The other cohort of airmen (n = 78), who represented a placebo control group, consumed a twice-daily beverage that was not enriched with nutrients. Neither the study participants nor the field researchers knew which group received the nutrient-enriched drink or a placebo beverage.

Chris Zwilling and colleagues also administered a battery of cognitive tests before and after the 12-week intervention to assess how the exercise regimen affected cognition by itself and in conjunction with the novel nutritional supplement. Six cognitive function domains were measured:

Read more: Psychology Today