Physical Activity and Cognitive Function in the Elderly: a Systematic Review

Ashley Carvalho, Maeve Rea, Tanyalak Parimon, Barry J Cusack

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181 Citations (Scopus)
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Background: Physical activity appears important contributor for healthy aging, including cognitive function. However, it is unclear whether late life physical activity alone is beneficial to cognitive function. We performed a systematic review to examine the effect of late life physical activity in maintaining cognitive function in older persons.
Methods: Search Strategy and Selection criteria: The search sources consisted of PubMed, MEDLINE, CINAHL, Cochrane Controlled Trials Register (CENTRAL), and the University of Washington Medical School Library Database between July 15, 2011 and August 15, 2012 with language restricted to English. Studies that were published in journals on or after January 2000 with participants older than 60 years of age were reviewed. Randomized controlled trials including at least 30 participants and lasting for at least 6 months and all observational studies of at least 100 participants and lasting at least 1 year in duration were eligible for inclusion Two reviewers assessed the applicability and results of these studies.
Results: Twenty-six studies fulfilling the inclusion criteria are included. Twenty-one studies reported that late life physical activity resulted in maintenance or enhancement of cognitive function. Three studies reported a dose-response relationship between physical activity and cognition.
Conclusions: Late life physical activity is beneficial for cognitive function in the elderly. However, the majority of the evidence is of medium quality with moderate risk of bias. Larger, randomized controlled trials are needed to better define the association between late life physical activity and cognitive function. Further research is required to determine which types of exercise have the greatest benefits on specific cognitive domains. Despite these caveats, current data are sufficient to recommend that moderate level, late life physical activity may be an effective method to improve cognitive function and delay the onset and progression of cognitive disease in the elderly.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to) 661 - 682
JournalClinical Interventions in Ageing
Early online date14 Mar 2014
Publication statusPublished - 14 Mar 2014


  • Ageing,
  • Exercise
  • Cognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    Open Access
    68 Citations (Scopus)
    366 Downloads (Pure)

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