Physical activity over the life course and its association with cognitive performance and impairment in old age

J Am Geriatr Soc. 2010 Jul;58(7):1322-6. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-5415.2010.02903.x. Epub 2010 Jun 30.


Objective: To determine how physical activity at various ages over the life course is associated with cognitive impairment in late life.

Design: Cross-sectional study.

Setting: Four U.S. sites.

Participants: Nine thousand three hundred forty-four women aged 65 and older (mean 71.6) who self-reported teenage, age 30, age 50, and late-life physical activity.

Measurements: Logistic regression was used to determine the association between physical activity status at each age and likelihood of cognitive impairment (modified Mini-Mental State Examination (mMMSE) score >1.5 standard deviations below the mean, mMMSE score</=22). Models were adjusted for age, education, marital status, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, depressive symptoms, smoking, and body mass index.

Results: Women who reported being physically active had a lower prevalence of cognitive impairment in late life than women who were inactive at each time (teenage: 8.5% vs 16.7%, adjusted odds ratio (AOR)=0.65, 95% confidence interval (CI)=0.53-0.80; age 30: 8.9% vs 12.0%, AOR=0.80, 95% CI=0.67-0.96); age 50: 8.5% vs 13.1%, AOR=0.71, 95% CI=0.59-0.85; old age: 8.2% vs 15.9%, AOR=0.74, 95% CI=0.61-0.91). When the four times were analyzed together, teenage physical activity was most strongly associated with lower odds of late-life cognitive impairment (OR=0.73, 95% CI=0.58-0.92). However, women who were physically inactive as teenagers and became active in later life had lower risk than those who remained inactive.

Conclusions: Women who reported being physically active at any point over the life course, especially as teenagers, had a lower likelihood of cognitive impairment in late life. Interventions should promote physical activity early in life and throughout the life course.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Cognition Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Exercise* / psychology
  • Female
  • Health Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Life Style*
  • Logistic Models
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Activity*
  • Prevalence
  • United States