Cardiorespiratory Fitness May Slow Memory Loss In Older Adults

Scott M. Hayes, Ph.D. Associate Director Neuroimaging Research for Veterans Center Memory Disorders Research Center VA Boston Healthcare System Assistant Professor of Psychiatry Boston University School of MedicineMedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Scott M. Hayes, Ph.D. Associate Director

Neuroimaging Research for Veterans Center
Memory Disorders Research Center
VA Boston Healthcare System
Assistant Professor of Psychiatry
Boston University School of Medicine

Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Dr. Hayes:   Studies with rodents have demonstrated that physical activity positively impacts memory, whereas human studies have tended to emphasize a relationship with executive function—which refers to one’s ability to plan, organize, and manipulate information in one’s mind.  To clarify the relationship between fitness, cognition, and aging, we directly assessed cardiorespiratory fitness (heart and lung function) using the gold standard in the field, a graded treadmill test, and assessed both memory and executive functions in young and older adults.  Our results showed that cardiorespiratory fitness was positively associated with memory and executive functions in older adults, but not young adults.  In fact, on tests of executive functions, older adults with higher levels of cardiorespiratory fitness performed as well as younger adults. The impact of cardiorespiratory fitness may be age-dependent.  Young adults, who are at their peak in terms of memory performance, may exhibit minimal associations with cardiorespiratory fitness.  In contrast, cardiorespiratory fitness likely has a larger impact in older adults by attenuating age-related decline in memory.

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Hayes:  Cardiorespiratory fitness can be enhanced with physical activity. While physical activity is not a cure for all age- and Alzheimer’s disease related cognitive decline, the results suggest that increasing physical activity and aerobic fitness may attenuate age-related decline in memory and executive functions. Maintaining performance in these domains is critical for completion of activities of daily living and maintenance of independent living. When people ask me what can they do to help their memory, I tell them to start exercising because I think the evidence to date is more compelling than some of the other intervention approaches out there.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Hayes:   Additional studies need to focus on longitudinal changes in cardiorespiratory fitness and how such changes impact memory and executive functions, as well as brain structure and function.  Future work is also needed to identify the optimal dose and types of exercise training to maximize improvements in memory and the brain in normal aging and Alzheimer’s disease.

Citation:

Hayes, S.M.,Forman, D.E., Verfaellie, M. (2014). Cardiorespiratory fitness is associated with cognitive performance in older but not younger adults. Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, doi:10.1093/geronb/gbu167