Two studies have indicated that engaging in regular physical activity is associated with a lesser decline in cognitive function in older adults.

In one article, Marie-Noel Vercambre, from the Foundation of Public Health, Mutuelle Generale de l’Education Nationale, Paris, and colleagues examined data from the Women’s Antioxidant Cardiovascular Study, which included women who had either prevalent vascular disease or three or more coronary risk factors.

The researchers analyzed data to correlate cognitive score changes with total physical activity and energy expenditure from walking. As the participants’ energy expenditure increased, the rate of cognitive decline decreased. The amount of exercise equivalent to a brisk, 30-minute walk every day was associated with lower risk of cognitive impairment.

In another report, Laura E. Middleton, from the Heart and Stroke Foundation Centre for Stroke Recovery, Sunnybrook Research Institute, Toronto, and colleagues utilized data from the Health, Aging, and Body Composition study, an ongoing prospective cohort study. The authors adjusted the data for baseline Modified Mini-Mental State Examination (MMMSE) scores, demographics, fat-free mass, sleep duration, self-reported health and diabetes mellitus. When these variables were accounted for, participants who had the highest activity energy expenditure (AEE) scores tended to have lower odds of incident cognitive impairment. The authors also noticed a significant dose response between AEE and incidence of cognitive impairment.

The authors of both articles suggested that there is more to be learned about the relationship between physical activity and cognitive function.

“Various biologic mechanisms may explain the positive relation between physical activity and cognitive health,” wrote Vercambre and colleagues. Middleton and co-authors stated, “The mechanisms by which physical activity is related to late-life cognition are likely to be multifactorial.” The studies have been published in Archives of Internal Medicine.