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Physical activity and trajectories in cognitive function: English Longitudinal Study of Ageing
  1. Mark Hamer1,2,
  2. Graciela Muniz Terrera3,
  3. Panayotes Demakakos2
  1. 1 School Sport Exercise and Health Sciences, National Centre for Sport and Exercise Medicine – East Midlands, Loughborough University, Loughborough, UK
  2. 2 Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, London, UK
  3. 3 Centre for Dementia Prevention, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK
  1. Correspondence to Professor Mark Hamer, National Centre for Sport and Exercise Medicine - East Midlands, Loughborough University, Loughborough LE11 3TU, UK; m.hamer{at}


Background There are limited data on physical activity in relation to trajectories in cognitive function. The aim was to examine the association of physical activity with trajectories in cognitive function, measured from repeated assessments over 10 years.

Methods We conducted a 10-year follow-up of 10 652 (aged 65±10.1 years) men and women from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, a cohort of community dwelling older adults. Self-reported physical activity was assessed at baseline and neuropsychological tests of memory and executive function were administered at regular 2-year intervals. Data from six repeated measurements of memory over 10 years and five repeated measurements of executive function over 8 years were used.

Results The multivariable models revealed relatively small baseline differences in cognitive function by physical activity status in both men and women. Over the 10-year follow-up, physically inactive women experienced a greater decline in their memory (−0.20 recalled words, 95% CI −0.29 to −0.11, per study wave) and in executive function ability (−0.33 named animals; −0.54 to −0.13, per study wave) in comparison with the vigorously active reference group. In men, there were no differences in memory (−0.08 recalled words, 95% CI −0.18 to 0.01, per study wave), but small differences in executive function (−0.23 named animals; −0.46 to −0.01, per study wave) between inactive and vigorously active.

Conclusion Physical activity was associated with preservation of memory and executive function over 10 years follow-up. The results were, however, more pronounced in women.

  • ageing
  • dementia
  • exercise

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  • Contributors PD had full access to the data and takes responsibility for the integrity and accuracy of the results. MH drafted the paper and designed the study. PD and GMT contributed to the concept and design of the study and critical revision of the manuscript. All authors agree to be included, have seen and approved mention of their names in the article and endorse the data and conclusions.

  • Disclaimer The funders had no role in the study design; in the collection, analysis and interpretation of data; in writing of the report or in the decision to submit the paper for publication. The developers and funders of ELSA and the Archive do not bear any responsibility for the analyses or interpretations presented here.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Obtained.

  • Ethics approval National Research Ethics Committee.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement ELSA data are publicly available at the UK Data Archive