While there is evidence that age-related changes in cognitive performance and brain structure can be offset by increased exercise, little is known about the impact long-term high-effort endurance exercise has on these functions. In a cross-sectional design with 12-month follow-up, we recruited older adults engaging in high-effort endurance exercise over at least 20 years, and compared their cognitive performance and brain structure with a nonsedentary control group similar in age, sex, education, IQ, and lifestyle factors. Our findings showed no differences on measures of speed of processing, executive function, incidental memory, episodic memory, working memory, or visual search for older adults participating in long-term high-effort endurance exercise, when compared without confounds to nonsedentary peers. On tasks that engaged significant attentional control, subtle differences emerged. On indices of brain structure, long-term exercisers displayed higher white matter axial diffusivity than their age-matched peers, but this did not correlate with indices of cognitive performance.
Young is with Facultad de Ciencias Económicas y Administrativas, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Bogotá, Colombia. Rusted is with the School of Psychology, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK. Dowell is with the Clinical Imaging Sciences Centre, Brighton and Sussex Medical School, Falmer, UK. Watt is with the Centre for Sport and Exercise Science and Medicine, School of Sport and Service Management, University of Brighton, Eastbourne, UK. Tabet is with the Institute of Postgraduate Medicine, Brighton and Sussex Medical School, University of Brighton, Brighton, UK.