Psychological Medicine

Original Articles

Leisure-time physical activity over the life course and cognitive functioning in late mid-adult years: a cohort-based investigation

A. Dregana1 c1 and M. C. Gulliforda1

a1 King's College London, NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust and King's College London, Department of Primary Care and Public Health Sciences, London, UK

Abstract

Background The objective of the present study was to estimate the association between different leisure-time physical activity (LTPA) parameters from 11 to 50 years and cognitive functioning in late mid-adulthood.

Method The study used a prospective birth cohort study including participants in the UK National Child Development Study (NCDS) from age 11 to 50 years. Standardized z scores for cognitive, memory and executive functioning at age 50 represented the primary outcome measures. Exposures included self-reported LTPA at ages 11, 16, 33, 42, 46 and 50 years. Analyses were adjusted for important confounders including educational attainment and long-standing illness.

Results The adjusted difference in cognition score between women who reported LTPA for at least 4 days/week in five surveys or more and those who never reported LTPA for at least 4 days/week was 0.28 [95% confidence interval (CI) 0.20–0.35], 0.10 (95% CI 0.01–0.19) for memory score and 0.30 (95% CI 0.23–0.38) for executive functioning score. For men, the equivalent differences were: cognition 0.12 (95% CI 0.05–0.18), memory 0.06 (95% CI − 0.02 to 0.14) and executive functioning 0.16 (95% CI 0.10–0.23).

Conclusions This study provides novel evidence about the lifelong association between LTPA and memory and executive functioning in mid-adult years. Participation in low-frequency and low-intensity LTPA was positively associated with cognitive functioning in late mid-adult years for men and women. The greatest benefit emerged from participating in lifelong intensive LTPA.

(Received November 15 2012)

(Revised January 24 2013)

(Accepted January 29 2013)

(Online publication March 12 2013)

Key words

  • Cognition;
  • cohort study;
  • executive function;
  • leisure-time physical activity;
  • memory;
  • prospective study

Correspondence

c1 Address for correspondence: Dr A. Dregan, NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust and King's College London, Department of Primary Care and Public Health, 6th Floor, Capital House, 42 Weston Street, London SE1 3QD, UK. (Email: alexandru.dregan@kcl.ac.uk)

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