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Fitness-related Brain Activation is Associated with Better Cognitive Performance in Older Adults

Key Message

An active lifestyle that supports cardiorespiratory fitness may be an effective and accessible way to combat the negative aspects of the cognitive aging proces. 


Wong, Chelsea N. et al. (2015). Brain activation during dual-task processing is associated with cardiorespiratory fitness and performance in older adults. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience. 7:154. doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2015.00154


Higher cardiorespiratory fitness is associated with better cognitive performance and enhanced brain activation. Yet, the extent to which cardiorespiratory fitness-related brain activation is associated with better cognitive performance is not well understood. In this cross-sectional study, we examined whether the association between cardiorespiratory fitness and executive function was mediated by greater prefrontal cortex activation in healthy older adults.


Brain activation was measured during dual-task performance with functional magnetic resonance imaging in a sample of 128 healthy older adults (59–80 years). Higher cardiorespiratory fitness was associated with greater activation during dual-task processing in several brain areas including the anterior cingulate and supplementary motor cortex (ACC/SMA), thalamus and basal ganglia, right motor/somatosensory cortex and middle frontal gyrus, and left somatosensory cortex, controlling for age, sex, education, and gray matter volume. Of these regions, greater ACC/SMA activation mediated the association between cardiorespiratory fitness and dual-task performance. We provide novel evidence that cardiorespiratory fitness may support cognitive performance by facilitating brain activation in a core region critical for executive function.

Benefit Statements / Outcomes

Leadership Provided By:

  • Leisure Information Network (LIN)
  • Alberta Recreation and Parks Association

On Behalf Of:

  • Canadian Parks and Recreation Association (CPRAA)

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