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We are pleased to share that the Institute of Sport, Exercise and Health’s (ISEH) Dr Tom Norris has led and published new research that aimed to unpick the relationship between cardiorespiratory fitness and cognitive function in mid-adulthood. This was a study conducted in collaboration with other ISEH colleagues, including Mr John Mitchell, Dr Jo Blodgett, Prof Mark Hamer and Dr Snehal Pinto Pereira.

Cognitive impairment in later life is associated with risk of progression to dementia. Hence, it is a major public health concern. In Europe, there are no effective treatments to reverse or delay dementia progression, therefore identifying causal factors which can be intervened upon to delay age-related declines in cognitive function is urgently needed.

The team were interested in understanding whether higher cardiorespiratory fitness, a marker of the cardiovascular system’s capacity to deliver oxygen and the ability of muscles to use it, at 45 years was associated with better cognitive function at 50 years. They used data on over 8,000 participants from a long-running British cohort study that has followed people over their lives since birth in 1958.

Their initial unadjusted analysis revealed that individuals with higher fitness at 45 years performed better on cognitive function tasks at 50 years. However, after taking account of differences in sociodemographic and behavioural characteristics, for example, those with higher cardiorespiratory fitness generally display more ‘health-promoting’ characteristics such as reduced alcohol consumption whilst also having higher educational attainment than those with lower fitness, there was no association between cardiorespiratory fitness and cognitive function. 

Dr Norris said “While higher fitness at 45 years was initially associated with better cognitive function at 50 years, the association disappeared once we accounted for sociodemographic and behavioural factors. To obtain a comprehensive understanding of the potential efficacy of intervening on cardiorespiratory fitness to improve cognitive outcomes, further research combining evidence obtained from more detailed longitudinal studies (with repeat measurements of cardiorespiratory fitness and cognition), different data sources (for example, genetic and brain imaging studies) and analytical methods, is required”. 

Continue reading their published research in the Scandinavian Journal of Science & Medicine in Sports.