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Physical Activity from Childhood to Adulthood and Cognitive Performance in Midlife

HAKALA, JUUSO O.1,2; ROVIO, SUVI P.1; PAHKALA, KATJA1,2; NEVALAINEN, JAAKKO3; JUONALA, MARKUS4; HUTRI-KÄHÖNEN, NINA5; HEINONEN, OLLI J.2; HIRVENSALO, MIRJA6; TELAMA, RISTO6; VIIKARI, JORMA S. A.4; TAMMELIN, TUIJA H.7; RAITAKARI, OLLI T.1,8

Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: May 2019 - Volume 51 - Issue 5 - p 882–890
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000001862
EPIDEMIOLOGY
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Introduction Physical activity (PA) has been suggested to protect against old-age cognitive deficits. However, the independent role of childhood/youth PA for adulthood cognitive performance is unknown. This study investigated the association between PA from childhood to adulthood and midlife cognitive performance.

Methods This study is a part of the Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study. Since 1980, a population-based cohort of 3596 children (age, 3–18 yr) have been followed up in 3- to 9-yr intervals. PA has been queried in all study phases. Cumulative PA was determined in childhood (age, 6–12 yr), adolescence (age, 12–18 yr), young adulthood (age, 18–24 yr), and adulthood (age, 24–37 yr). Cognitive performance was assessed using computerized neuropsychological test, CANTAB® (N = 2026; age, 34–49 yr) in 2011.

Results High PA in childhood (β = 0.119; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.055–0.182) and adolescence (β = 0.125; 95% CI, 0.063–0.188) were associated with better reaction time in midlife independent of PA in other age frames. Additionally, an independent association of high PA in young adulthood with better visual processing and sustained attention in midlife was observed among men (β = 0.101; 95% CI, 0.001–0.200). There were no associations for other cognitive domains.

Conclusions Cumulative exposure to PA from childhood to adulthood was found to be associated with better midlife reaction time. Furthermore, cumulative PA exposure in young adulthood and adulthood was associated with better visual processing and sustained attention in men. All associations were independent of participants PA level in other measured age frames. Therefore, a physically active lifestyle should be adopted already in childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood and continued into midlife to ensure the plausible benefits of PA on midlife cognitive performance.

1Research Centre of Applied and Preventive Cardiovascular Medicine, University of Turku, Turku, FINLAND;

2Paavo Nurmi Centre, Unit of Health and Physical Activity, University of Turku, Turku, FINLAND;

3School of Health Sciences/Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Tampere, Tampere, FINLAND;

4Department of Medicine, University of Turku and Division of Medicine, Turku University Hospital, Turku, FINLAND;

5Department of Pediatrics, University of Tampere and Tampere University Hospital, Tampere, FINLAND;

6Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences, University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä, FINLAND;

7LIKES Research Centre for Physical Activity and Health, Jyväskylä, FINLAND; and

8Department of Clinical Physiology and Nuclear Medicine, University of Turku, Turku, FINLAND

Address for correspondence: Juuso Hakala, M.D., Research Centre of Applied and Preventive Cardiovascular Medicine, University of Turku, Kiinamyllynkatu 10, 20520, Turku, Finland; E-mail: juolhak@utu.fi.

J. O. H. and S. P. R. contributed equally.

Submitted for publication August 2018.

Accepted for publication December 2018.

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© 2019 American College of Sports Medicine