Background and purpose: Regular physical activity (PA) provides benefits for cognitive health and helps to improve or maintain quality of life among older adults. Objective PA measures have been increasingly used to overcome limitations of self-report measures. The purpose of this study was to investigate the association of objectively measured PA and sedentary time with cognitive function among older adults.
Methods: Participants were recruited from the parent REasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) Study. ActicalTM accelerometers provided estimates of PA variables, including moderate-to-vigorous PA (MVPA), high light PA (HLPA), low light PA (LLPA) and sedentary time, for 4-7 consecutive days. Prevalence and incidence of cognitive impairment were defined by the Six-Item Screener. Letter fluency, animal fluency, word list learning and Montreal Cognitive Assessment (orientation and recall) were conducted to assess executive function and memory.
Results: Of the 7,339 participants who provided accelerometer wear data > 4 days (70.1 ± 8.6 yr, 54.2% women, 31.7% African American), 320 participants exhibited impaired cognition. In cross-sectional analysis, participants in the highest MVPA% quartile had 39% lower odds of cognitive impairment than those in the lowest quartile (OR: 0.61, 95% C.I.: 0.39-0.95) after full adjustment. Further analysis shows most quartiles of MVPA% and HLPA% were significantly associated with executive function and memory (P<0.01). During 2.7 ± 0.5 years of follow-up, 3,385 participants were included in the longitudinal analysis, with 157 incident cases of cognitive impairment. After adjustments, participants in the highest MVPA% quartile had 51% lower hazards of cognitive impairment (HR: 0.49, 95% C.I.: 0.28-0.86). Additionally, MVPA% was inversely associated with change in memory z-scores (P<0.01), while the highest quartile of HLPA% was inversely associated with change in executive function and memory z-scores (P<0.01).
Conclusion: Higher levels of objectively measured MVPA% were independently associated with lower prevalence and incidence of cognitive impairment, and better memory and executive function in older adults. Higher levels of HLPA% were also independently associated with better memory and executive function. The amount of MVPA associated with lower risk of cognitive impairment (259 min/week) is >70% higher than the minimal amount of MVPA recommended by PA guidelines.