A longitudinal study of cardiorespiratory fitness and cognitive function in healthy older adults

J Am Geriatr Soc. 2003 Apr;51(4):459-65. doi: 10.1046/j.1532-5415.2003.51153.x.


Objectives: To determine whether cardiorespiratory fitness at baseline is associated with maintenance of cognitive function over 6 years or with level of cognitive function on tests performed 6 years later in a longitudinal study of healthy older people.

Design: Prospective cohort.

Setting: Community-based study of noninstitutionalized adults aged 55 and older living in Sonoma, California.

Participants: Three hundred forty-nine cohort members without evidence of cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal disability, or cognitive impairment at baseline.

Measurements: Cardiorespiratory fitness measures were based on a standard treadmill exercise test protocol and included peak oxygen consumption (peak VO2), treadmill exercise duration, and oxygen uptake efficiency slope (OUES). Cognitive function was evaluated at baseline with a modified Mini-Mental State Examination (mMMSE) and after 6 years of follow-up with a detailed cognitive test battery that included the full MMSE, three tests of attention/executive function, two measures of verbal memory, and two tests of verbal fluency.

Results: Participants with worse cardiorespiratory fitness at baseline experienced greater decline on the mMMSE over 6 years (mean mMMSE decline (95% confidence interval) by baseline peak VO2 tertile: lowest = -0.5 (-0.8 to -0.3), middle = -0.2 (-0.5-0.0), highest = 0.0 (-0.3-0.2), P =.002 for trend over tertiles). Participants with worse baseline cardiorespiratory fitness also performed worse on all cognitive tests conducted 6 years later. Results were similar for analyses based on peak VO2, treadmill exercise duration, and OUES. After adjustment for demographic and health-related covariates, measures of cardiorespiratory fitness were associated most strongly with measures of global cognitive function and attention/executive function.

Conclusion: Baseline measures of cardiorespiratory fitness are positively associated with preservation of cognitive function over a 6-year period and with levels of performance on cognitive tests conducted 6 years later in healthy older adults. High cardiorespiratory fitness may protect against cognitive dysfunction in older people.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • California
  • Cognition*
  • Exercise
  • Female
  • Geriatric Assessment*
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Oxygen Consumption
  • Psychological Tests*