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Physical fitness and aortic stiffness explain the reduced cognitive performance associated with increasing age in older people

journal contribution
posted on 2018-01-01, 00:00 authored by Greg Kennedy, Denny Meyer, Roy J Hardman, Helen MacphersonHelen Macpherson, Andrew B Scholey, Andrew Pipingas
BACKGROUND: Greater physical fitness is associated with reduced rates of cognitive decline in older people; however, the mechanisms by which this occurs are still unclear. One potential mechanism is aortic stiffness, with increased stiffness resulting in higher pulsatile pressures reaching the brain and possibly causing progressive micro-damage. There is limited evidence that those who regularly exercise may have lower aortic stiffness. OBJECTIVE: To investigate whether greater fitness and lower aortic stiffness predict better cognitive performance in older people and, if so, whether aortic stiffness mediates the relationship between fitness and cognition. METHODS: Residents of independent living facilities, aged 60-90, participated in the study (N = 102). Primary measures included a computerized cognitive assessment battery, pulse wave velocity analysis to measure aortic stiffness, and the Six-Minute Walk test to assess fitness. Based on hierarchical regression analyses, structural equation modelling was used to test the mediation hypothesis. RESULTS: Both fitness and aortic stiffness independently predicted Spatial Working Memory (SWM) performance, however no mediating relationship was found. Additionally, the derived structural equation model shows that, in conjunction with BMI and sex, fitness and aortic stiffness explain 33% of the overall variation in SWM, with age no longer directly predicting any variation. CONCLUSIONS: Greater fitness and lower aortic stiffness both independently predict better SWM in older people. The strong effect of age on cognitive performance is totally mediated by fitness and aortic stiffness. This suggests that addressing both physical fitness and aortic stiffness may be important to reduce the rate of age associated cognitive decline.



Journal of alzheimer’s disease






1307 - 1316


IOS Press


Amsterdam, Netherlands







Publication classification

C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal

Copyright notice

2018, IOS Press and the authors