Effect of physical activity on cognitive flexibility, depression and RBD in healthy elderly

Clin Neurol Neurosurg. 2018 Feb;165:88-93. doi: 10.1016/j.clineuro.2018.01.008. Epub 2018 Jan 9.


Objective: The prevalence of Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease increases with the raising number of elderly, which will be a challenging situation for the healthcare systems and society in the future. There is evidence that there are modifiable risk-factors e.g. physical activity for these diseases. Here, we study the interaction between sports inactivity with prodromal markers for neurodegeneration.

Patients and methods: We investigated 667 neurologically healthy individuals cross-sectional and a subgroup longitudinal over six years. Participants were stratified by their weekly sports activity. Prodromal markers (depression and REM sleep behaviour disorder (RBD)) as well as single and dual-tasking parameters and cognitive parameters were compared between the groups.

Results: At baseline, sports activity was associated with lower BDI scores, lower occurrence of depressive syndrome and RBD, compared to sports inactivity. Further, active participants were faster in cognitive tasks associated with working memory and attention (Trail Making test part-A; TMT-B, ΔTMT-B-A) and better in gait and cognition parameters (single tasks and dual tasks) but not with overall cognition as measured with the MMSE. The association between physical inactivity and depression as well as TMT was present after six years.

Conclusion: We found that sports activity has a positive effect on cognitive flexibility, depressive symptoms and sleep which are all signs for a possible ongoing neurodegenerative process. Therefore, our results strengthen the potential role of sports activity as a positive disease modifier.

Keywords: Aging; Cognition; Cohort study; Neurodegeneration; Physical activity.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / physiology
  • Aging / psychology
  • Biomarkers
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • REM Sleep Behavior Disorder / epidemiology
  • REM Sleep Behavior Disorder / psychology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Sports / physiology*
  • Sports / psychology*
  • Trail Making Test


  • Biomarkers