There is ample evidence for supporting the positive impact of aerobic fitness on cognitive function, but little is known about the physiological mechanisms. The objective of this study was to investigate whether the positive cognitive impact of aerobic fitness is associated with inflammatory and neurotrophic peripheral biomarkers in young adults aged 18 to 29years (n=87). For the objective assessment of aerobic fitness, we measured maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max) as a parametric measure of cardiorespiratory capacity. We demonstrated that young adults with the higher levels of VO2max performed better on computerized cognitive tasks assessing sustained attention and working memory. This positive VO2max-cognitive performance association existed independently of confounders (e.g., years of education, intelligence scores) but was significantly dependent on resting peripheral blood levels of inflammatory (C-reactive protein, CRP) and neurotrophic (brain-derived neurotrophic factor, BDNF) biomarkers. Statistical models showed that CRP was a mediator of the effect of VO2max on working memory. Further, BDNF was a moderator of the effect of VO2max on working memory. These mediating and moderating effects occurred in individuals with higher levels of aerobic fitness. The results suggest that higher aerobic fitness, as measured by VO2max, is associated with enhanced cognitive functioning and favorable resting peripheral levels of inflammatory and brain-derived neurotrophic biomarkers in young adults.
Keywords: Aerobic fitness; Brain-derived neurotrophic factor; C-reactive protein; Cognition; Young adult.
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