Greater accelerometer-measured physical activity is associated with better cognition and cerebrovascular health in older adults
Objectives: Physical activity (PA) may help maintain brain structure and function in aging. Since the intensity of PA needed to effect cognition and cerebrovascular health remains unknown, we examined associations between PA and cognition, regional white matter hyperintensities (WMH), and regional cerebral blood flow (CBF) in older adults.
Method: Forty-three older adults without cognitive impairment underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and comprehensive neuropsychological assessment. Waist-worn accelerometers objectively measured PA for approximately one week.
Results: Higher time spent in moderate to vigorous PA (MVPA) was uniquely associated with better memory and executive functioning after adjusting for all light PA. Higher MVPA was also uniquely associated with lower frontal WMH volume although the finding was no longer significant after additionally adjusting for age and accelerometer wear time. MVPA was not associated with CBF. Higher time spent in all light PA was uniquely associated with higher CBF but not with cognitive performance or WMH volume.
Conclusions: Engaging in PA may be beneficial for cerebrovascular health, and MVPA in particular may help preserve memory and executive function in otherwise cognitively healthy older adults. There may be differential effects of engaging in lighter PA and MVPA on MRI markers of cerebrovascular health although this needs to be confirmed in future studies with larger samples. Future randomized controlled trials that increase PA are needed to elucidate cause-effect associations between PA and cerebrovascular health.