Physical Activity, Cardiorespiratory Fitness, and Cognition Across the Lifespan
In this chapter, we review the literature relative to physical activity, exercise training, and cardiorespiratory fitness associations with cognitive function, and brain structure and function. We begin by examining these relationships in the context of older adults, which represents the greatest proportion of the literature in this area. We conclude that data from exercise training studies show a consistent protective effect of exercise and, in particular cardiorespiratory fitness, on executive function and brain health. Next, we review a more recent series of studies that have focused on extending fitness effects on brain and cognition to children. This work is suggestive of a positive association between fitness and brain structure and function, cognitive function, and scholastic achievement. We conclude by discussing emerging trends and future directions in the physical activity and cognition field and argue that the maintenance of an active lifestyle across the lifespan may be as important for brain health as it is for physical health.
KeywordsPhysical Activity Exercise Training Default Mode Network Executive Control Hippocampal Volume
Partial support for the preparation of this manuscript was provided by a grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD R01 HD055352) to Charles Hillman and the National Institute on Aging (NIA 2R01 AG020118) to Edward McAuley.
- Anderson-Hanley, C., Arciero, P. J., Brickman, A. M., Nimon, J. P., Okuma, N., Westen, S. C., et al. (2012). Exergaming and older adult cognition: A cluster randomized clinical trial. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 42(2), 109–119. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2011.10.016.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Black, J. E., & Greenough, W. T. (1986). Induction of pattern in neural structure by experience: Implications for cognitive development. Advances in Developmental Psychology, 4, 1–50.Google Scholar
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention/National Center for Health Statistics, H. D. I. (2009). Summary health statistics for U.S. adults: National Health Interview Survey, 2009, table 29, from www.cdc.gov/nchs/hdi.htm.
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention/National Center for Health Statistics, H. D. I. (2010). Prevalence of overweight, obesity, and extreme obesity among adults: United States, trends 1976–1980 through 2007–2008, from www.cdc.gov/nchs/hdi.htm.
- Chomitz, V. R., Slining, M. M., McGowan, R. J., Mitchell, S. E., Dawson, G. F., & Hacker, K. A. (2009). Is there a relationship between physical fitness and academic achievement? Positive results from public school children in the northeastern United States. Journal of School Health, 79(1), 30–37.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Coe, D. P., Pivarnik, J. M., Womack, C. J., Reeves, M. J., & Malina, R. M. (2006). Effect of physical education and activity levels on academic achievement in children. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 38(8), 1515–1519. doi: 10.1249/01.mss.0000227537.13175.1b.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Cohen, N. J., & Eichenbaum, H. (1993). Memory, amnesia, and the hippocampal system. Cambridge: MIT press.Google Scholar
- Coppin, A. K., Shumway-Cook, A., Saczynski, J. S., Patel, K. V., Ble, A., Ferrucci, L., et al. (2006). Association of executive function and performance of dual-task physical tests among older adults: Analyses from the InChianti study. Age and Ageing, 35(6), 619–624. doi: 10.1093/ageing/afl107.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Davis, C. L., Tomporowski, P. D., McDowell, J. E., Austin, B. P., Miller, P. H., Yanasak, N. E., et al. (2011). Exercise improves executive function and achievement and alters brain activation in overweight children: A randomized, controlled trial. Health Psychology, 30(1), 91–98. doi: 10.1037/a0021766.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Donnelly, J. E., Greene, J. L., Gibson, C. A., Smith, B. K., Washburn, R. A., Sullivan, D. K., et al. (2009). Physical activity across the curriculum (PAAC): A randomized controlled trial to promote physical activity and diminish overweight and obesity in elementary school children. Preventive Medicine, 49(4), 336–341. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2009.07.022.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Eichenbaum, H., & Cohen, N. J. (2001). From conditioning to conscious recollection: Memory systems of the brain. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- European Commision: EuroStat: Statistics Explained. (2011). Overweight and obesity—BMI statistics. Retrieved 7 May 2012 from http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/statistics_explained/index.php/Overweight_and_obesity_-_BMI_statistics.
- Greenough, W. T., & Black, J. E. (1992). Induction of brain structure by experience: Substrates for cognitive development. In M. R. Gunnar & C. A. Nelson (Eds.), Developmental behavior neuroscience (Vol. 24, pp. 155–200). Hillsdale: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
- Grissom, J. B. (2005). Physical fitness and academic achievement. Journal of Exercise Physiology online, 8(1), 11–25.Google Scholar
- Hall, P. A., Zehr, C. E., Ng, M., & Zanna, M. P. (2012). Implementation intentions for physical activity in supportive and unsupportive environmental conditions: An experimental examination of intention-behavior consistency. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48(1), 432–436. doi: 10.1016/j.jesp.2011.09.004.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Hertzog, C., Kramer, A. F., Wilson, R. S., & Lindenberger, U. (2009). Enrichment effects on cognitive developement: Can the functional capacity of older adults be preserved and enhanced? Psychological Sciences in Public Interest, 9(1), 1–65.Google Scholar
- Hillman, C. H., Buck, S. M., Themanson, J. R., Pontifex, M. B., & Castelli, D. M. (2009). Aerobic fitness and cognitive development: Event-related brain potential and task performance indices of executive control in preadolescent children. Developmental Psychology, 45(1), 114–129. doi: 10.1037/a0014437.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Huh, Y., Yang, E. J., Lee, S. A., Lim, J. Y., Kim, K. W., & Paik, N. J. (2011). Association between executive function and physical performance in older Korean adults: Findings from the Korean longitudinal study on health and aging (KLoSHA). Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics, 52(3), e156–e161. doi: 10.1016/j.archger.2010.10.018.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Kamijo, K., Hayashi, Y., Sakai, T., Yahiro, T., Tanaka, K., & Nishihira, Y. (2009). Acute effects of aerobic exercise on cognitive function in older adults. The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 64(3), 356–363. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbp030.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Kamijo, K., Pontifex, M., O’Leary, K. C., Scudder, M. R., Wu, C.-T., Castelli, D. M., & Hillman, C. H. (2011). The effects of an afterschool physical activity program on working memory in preadolescent children. Developmental Science, 14, 1046–1058 [PMCID: 21884320].Google Scholar
- McAuley, E., Mullen, S. P., Szabo, A. N., White, S. M., Wójcicki, T. R., Mailey, E. L., et al. (2011). Self-regulatory processes and exercise adherence in older adults: Executive function and self-efficacy effects. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 41(3), 284–290. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2011.04.014.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Pleis, J. R., & Lucas, J. W. (2009). Summary health statistics for US adults: National Health Interview Survey, 2007. Vital and health statistics. Series 10, Data from the National Health Survey, (240), 1.Google Scholar
- Pontifex, M. B., Raine, L. B., Johnson, C. R., Chaddock, L., Voss, M. W., Cohen, N. J., et al. (2011). Cardiorespiratory fitness and the flexible modulation of cognitive control in preadolescent children. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 23(6), 1332–1345. doi: 10.1162/jocn.2010.21528.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Rosano, C., Sigurdsson, S., Siggeirsdottir, K., Phillips, C. L., Garcia, M., Jonsson, P. V., et al. (2010). Magnetization transfer imaging, white matter hyperintensities, brain atrophy and slower gait in older men and women. Neurobiology of Aging, 31(7), 1197–1204. doi: 10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2008.08.004.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Smith, P. J., Blumenthal, J. A., Hoffman, B. M., Cooper, H., Strauman, T. A., Welsh-Bohmer, K., et al. (2010). Aerobic exercise and neurocognitive performance: A meta-analytic review of randomized controlled trials. Psychosomatic Medicine, 72(3), 239–252. doi: 10.1097/PSY.0b013e3181d14633.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Sturman, M. T., Morris, M. C., Mendes de Leon, C. F., Bienias, J. L., Wilson, R. S., & Evans, D. A. (2005). Physical activity, cognitive activity, and cognitive decline in a biracial community population. Archives of Neurology, 62(11), 1750–1754. doi: 10.1001/archneur.62.11.1750.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar