To investigate the association between physical activity and cognitive ability, cross-sectional data from a representative cohort of 1,189 adults (70–79 years old) participating in the MacArthur Study of Successful Aging were examined. The frequency of current house/yardwork and recreational activities was assessed using five categories of responses. A total physical activity score was derived, and cognitive ability was assessed. The total physical activity score showed a modest yet significant bivariate correlation with the total cognitive ability score. In the multivariate analysis, physical activity showed a significant association with the total cognitive ability score, independent of gender, self-rated health, average peak expiratory flow rate, body mass index, number of current social relationships, and visual contacts in the past month. When education was added to the model, however, the effect of physical activity was substantially diminished. Higher levels of physical activity appear to be associated with some cognitive benefits among a population of healthy older adults, although this association is influenced strongly by their joint association with education.
Loretta DiPietro is with the John B. Pierce Laboratory, 290 Congress Ave., New Haven, CT 06519, and the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, Yale University School of Medicine. Teresa E. Seeman is with the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA 90089. Susan S. Merrill is with the Institute of Gerontology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109. Lisa F. Berkman is with the Department of Health and Social Behavior, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA 02115.