“Physical Activity Across Adulthood Linked to Better Cognitive Performance and Memory Later in Life”
Regular physical activity across adulthood has been associated with higher cognitive performance and better memory in later life, according to a new study published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry. The research, which was co-funded by Alzheimer’s Research UK, looked at data from the 1946 British birth cohort study and found that being physically active at all five time points in adulthood was associated with higher cognitive performance, verbal memory, and processing speed at the age of 69.
The survey asked participants whether they had engaged in “sports and vigorous leisure activities” such as badminton, swimming, dancing, football, or brisk walks for 30 minutes or more in the previous four weeks. At the age of 69, individuals were administered cognitive tests as well as examinations focused on processing speed and memory.
Analysis of the results showed that 11% of participants were physically inactive at all five time points; 17% were active at one; 20% were active at two and three; 17% were active at four and 15% at all five. Part of the explanation for the correlation between physical activity over time and cognitive performance later in life is childhood cognition, socioeconomic status, and educational level.
Dr. Susan Mitchell, the head of policy at Alzheimer’s Research UK, commented, “This large study, which ran over three decades and which was co-funded by Alzheimer’s Research UK, shows that it’s never too late to start getting active, and how important it is to try and maintain this throughout our lifetime.”
The researchers acknowledge that their findings have some flaws, as this is an observational study, and therefore cannot prove causation. The researchers wanted to know if the advantages of physical activity would be concentrated in one “sensitive” time period of life or distributed throughout multiple stages. At age 69, cognitive performance was evaluated by means of the validated ACE-111, which examines attention and orientation, verbal fluency, memory, language, and visuospatial abilities. Additionally, verbal memory was tested through the word learning test, and processing speed was evaluated with the visual search speed test. The effects of three factors (cardiovascular and mental health, and carriage of the APOE-ε4 gene) on the risk of cognitive decline were also investigated to see if any modifications occurred.
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