Exercise, cognitive function, and aging

Adv Physiol Educ. 2015 Jun;39(2):55-62. doi: 10.1152/advan.00101.2014.


Increasing the lifespan of a population is often a marker of a country's success. With the percentage of the population over 65 yr of age expanding, managing the health and independence of this population is an ongoing concern. Advancing age is associated with a decrease in cognitive function that ultimately affects quality of life. Understanding potential adverse effects of aging on brain blood flow and cognition may help to determine effective strategies to mitigate these effects on the population. Exercise may be one strategy to prevent or delay cognitive decline. This review describes how aging is associated with cardiovascular disease risks, vascular dysfunction, and increasing Alzheimer's disease pathology. It will also discuss the possible effects of aging on cerebral vascular physiology, cerebral perfusion, and brain atrophy rates. Clinically, these changes will present as reduced cognitive function, neurodegeneration, and the onset of dementia. Regular exercise has been shown to improve cognitive function, and we hypothesize that this occurs through beneficial adaptations in vascular physiology and improved neurovascular coupling. This review highlights the potential interactions and ideas of how the age-associated variables may affect cognition and may be moderated by regular exercise.

Keywords: brain; cardiovascular; physical activity; physiology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Alzheimer Disease / etiology
  • Alzheimer Disease / physiopathology
  • Alzheimer Disease / prevention & control*
  • Alzheimer Disease / psychology
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology
  • Cognition Disorders / physiopathology
  • Cognition Disorders / prevention & control*
  • Cognition Disorders / psychology
  • Cognition*
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Expectancy
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physical Fitness
  • Risk Factors