Cognition, Aging, and
University of West GA
Kimberly Sheppard
Problem: Cognition Decline in
Older Adults
In 2010 the Alzheimer's Association stated that the total
estimated cost per year for the care of patients with
dementia reached $172 billion (Weinstein & Erickson,
2011). At the age of Fifty-five and above, the general
population can expect to lose 1 to 2 percent annually in
their memory area, or the hippocampal (Weinstein &
Erickson, 2011). This amazing amount will only increase
as the baby boomers age group continue to age. The
question is, what can be done to help as there is no
guaranteed treatment at this time?
(Anderson-Hanley, et al., 2010).
The Impact of Exercise on
Cognitive Functioning
The Stein Institute for Research on Aging frequently provides conferences with
guest speakers and Dr. Amy Jak, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the
University of California recently spoke on the impact of exercise on cognitive
functioning. Dr. Jak discussed some behavioral interventions that adults do
have control over; one of those being exercise. Her goal is to keep people
towards the normal aging spectrum and not have them move towards dementia.
Her prediction is that if we do not come up with better interventions then in
2050 around 14 million older adults will have Alzheimer’s disease (SIRA,
2008). The overall converging evidence across the lifespan, both from animal
and human studies, lead to the belief that exercise does contribute to improved
cognitive function in older adults compared to adults that are more sedentary.
fMRI results also showed and improved cognitive function (SIRA, 2008).
Also noted (SIRA, 2008):
Regularly scheduled physical activities promote even stronger results.
The connection between aging women and physical activity is stronger
than the connection between men and physical activity.
Connection Between Aging
Women, Exercise and Cognition
Looking at women specifically, one study of 2,736 women in their 80s, without
evidence of dementia showed improved cognition with exercise (Barnes, Blackwell,
Stone, Goldman, Hillier, & Yaffe, 2008). Women were measured using a watch like
device that measured the women’s activity level over a period of time. The women
were tested prior to the study and then post study as well and again the study showed
improved cognition (Barnes, et al., 2008). Although the women in this study were
overall affected in the positive with improved cognition this again is not to say that
men are not also positively affected. In Successful Aging Through the lifespan,
specifically in chapter four, it looks at the importance of exercise (both physically
and cognitively) across the lifespan and how it helps especially senior adults. The
thought is that since senior adults are already on a decline cognitively that with the
exercise helps to counteract this to some degree and instead of such a decline they
instead with stand this decline and instead even improve cognitively (Wykle,
Whitehouse, & Morris, 2005). Dr. Amy Jak, even went so far as to say that exercise
would help to fortify the cognitive area of the brain and help it recover from slight
injuries (SIRA, 2008).
Continual Exercise Prevents
Aging-Related Cognitive Decline
On a longer trial basis, another randomized study of 120 adults
between the ages of 65-74 demonstrated that their was a definite
connection between continual exercise and improved cognition.
This study looked at the individuals in the study for a 12-month
period, within the a group gym method for 3 hours per week.
There was a base-line test (Mini Mental State Examination)
completed and then another at the end of the test. At the end of
the year the adults that were part of the treatment group were
significantly improved, while the control group showed a
decline in their MMSM score (Muscari, Giannoni, Pierpaoli,
Berzigotti, Maietta, Foschi, Ravaioli, Poggiopollini, Bianchi,
Magalotti, Tentoni, & Zoli, 2010).
Further Research
Further research has been completed in the area of which type of physical activity is most
affective. The fMRI scans below show the average scan. The blue area is the negative and
shows the area for low fit individuals and the orange is the positive activation for high fit
individuals. Looking at the x numbers below. The numbers for the physical fitness are lower
than those for motor fitness. Each area deals with cognition and “activation patterns
associated with motor and physical fitness seem to point to a very close connection as well as
interdependency between different cortical networks” (Voelcker-Rehage, Godde, &
Staudinger 2010).
Physical Fitness
Motor Fitness
In Conclusion
In conclusion, exercise does improve cognition in all ages but in
elderly adults exercise proves especially helpful not only to
keep physical mobility fluid but also cognitively to halt decline
in cognition loss (Wykle, Whitehouse, & Morris, 2005). It also
continues to improve the level of cognition that they currently
have, at a time when cognition typically only declines. There
is still some question about the amount of time and exercise
level that is required but the general consensus is that any
amount helps but higher levels of aerobic exercise provide the
most benefit. This is again because it provides the most oxygen
to the brain (SIRA, 2008). It is also more effective in women
and groups of individuals but again all can be helped by
Anderson-Hanley, C. C., Nimon, J.P., & Westen, S.C. (2010). Cognitive health benefits of strengthening exercise for communitydwelling older adults. Journal Of Clinical & Experimental Neuropsychology, 32(9), 996-1001. doi: 10.1080/13803391003662702
This looks at community-dwelling older adults. In one of the other sources, Dr. Jak discussed how individuals are more
successful with exercise and the benefits if they are in group exercise so I searched to find research on this specific area. This
study showed excellent results for the individuals that were a part of it.
Barnes, D.E., Blackwell, T., Stone, K.L., Goldman, S.E., Hillier, T., & Yaffe, K. (2008). Cognition in older women: The importance
of daytime movement. Journal Of The American Geriatrics Society, 56(9), 1658-1664. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-5415.2008.01841.x
This study looked specifically at the effect on women of exercise, another area mentioned by Dr. Jak. The test group itself
looked at over 2,000 women so it was not just a small group. Several of the sources discussed how the cognitive benefits
were higher for women and this article looked specifically at this.
Muscari, A., Giannoni, C., Pierpaoli, L., Berzigotti, A., Maietta, P., Foschi, E., Ravaioli, C., Poggiopollini, G., Bianchi, G.,
Magalotti, D., Tentoni, C., & Zoli, M. (2010). Chronic endurance exercise training prevents aging-related cognitive decline in
healthy older adults: A randomized controlled trial. International Journal Of Geriatric Psychiatry, 25(10), 1055-1064. doi:
This provided a 12-month random study. Some of the other studies were more specific and looked at specific people groups,
while this one was broader in scope. Also several other studies were shorter in duration and this one was looking at the same
test groups for a year long period and tracking their improvements.
Stein Institute for Research on Aging (SIRA) (2008). The impact of exercise on cognitive functioning [Video file]. Retrieved from
This video is provided by Stein Institute for Research on Aging, a part of the University of California San Diego. It is a
seminar from Dr. Amy Jak and provides an overview of her explanation of the importance of exercise on cognitive function
in aging. She uses a longitudinal study and demonstrates the long term effects of exercise. The reason this one was used for
this project was that it does provide a verbal example in the researchers own words about her study.
Voelcker-Rehage, C. M., Godde, B., & Staudinger, U.M. (2010). Physical and motor fitness are both related to
cognition in old age. European Journal Of Neuroscience, 31(1), 167-176. doi:10.1111/j.1460-9568.2009.07014.x
This article provided an excellent study to look at but also very descriptive quantitative data. The fMRI
scans are rarely seen in research so this was a particular gem, if for no other reason than seeing the average
fMRI scans. It was very numerical and visual for those that require a more logical and visual view to learn
from new information.
Weinstein, A. M., & Erickson, K. I. (2011). Healthy body equals healthy mind. Generations, 35(2), 92-98.
Retrieved from
Although some of the language used in this article requires some experience, overall, Weinstein and
Erikson provide a very user friendly article. They suggest that people of any age will benefit from
exercising for the cognitive benefit. This article a basic overview which was helpful to look at before going
to other articles.
Wykle, M., Whitehouse, P., & Morris, D. (2005). Successful aging through the life span: Intergenerational issues
in health. New York : Springer Pub. Co.
This book provides an excellent overall explanation about aging across the lifespan. Specifically in chapter
four it details the importance of exercise on cognitive function. I thought it was very interesting the way
that it looked at many broader areas of the lifespan and not just one particular area.

LifeSpan - Exercise on Cognition and Aging