Cardiorespiratory fitness and accelerated cognitive decline with aging

Carrington R. Wendell, John Gunstad, Shari R. Waldstein, Jeanette G. Wright, Luigi Ferrucci, Alan B. Zonderman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations


Background.Growing evidence suggests that self-reported physical activity accounts for variability in cognitive function among older adults, and aerobic intervention may improve cognitive function in this population. However, much less is known about the longitudinal association between direct measures of cardiorespiratory fitness and cognitive function across the life span. The present study examined the prospective association between symptom-limited maximal oxygen consumption (VO2max) and longitudinal performance on a comprehensive neuropsychological battery.Methods.Up to 1,400 participants aged 19-94 years underwent initial VO2max assessment and completed subsequent tests of memory, attention, perceptuomotor speed, language, and executive function, in addition to cognitive screening measures, on up to six occasions (mean, M = 2; standard deviation, SD = 1) for up to 18 years (M = 7, SD = 3). Mixed-effects regression models were adjusted for demographic, biomedical, and behavioral confounders.Results.Analyses revealed significant longitudinal associations between baseline VO2max and trajectory of performance on multiple measures of verbal and visual memory, as well as on a cognitive screening test (all ps 2max demonstrated accelerated trajectories of cognitive decline over time.Conclusions.Baseline cardiorespiratory fitness is related to longitudinal neuropsychological performance, and memory appears to be a particularly vulnerable domain. Evidence that aerobic fitness is associated with accelerated cognitive decline emphasizes the possible importance of behavioral interventions to optimize cognitive aging over time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)455-462
Number of pages8
JournalJournals of Gerontology - Series A Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Aerobic fitness
  • Cardiorespiratory fitness
  • Cognitive function
  • Maximal oxygen consumption
  • Neuropsychology.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aging
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Medicine(all)


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