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Exp Aging Res. 2012;38(2):131-45. doi: 10.1080/0361073X.2012.659995.

Cognitive and neural correlates of aerobic fitness in obese older adults.

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Department of Psychology, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri 63130, USA.


BacKGROUND/STUDY CONTEXT: Aerobic fitness is associated with preserved cognition and brain volume in older adulthood. The current study investigated whether the benefits of aerobic fitness extend to obese older adults, a segment of the population that is rapidly growing and who exhibit compromised cognition and brain structure relative to their nonobese counterparts.


Measures of obesity, aerobic fitness, cognition (processing speed, executive function, spatial ability, memory), and regional brain volumes (prefrontal gray, prefrontal white, hippocampus) were obtained from 19 obese older adults aged 65 to 75. Hierarchical linear regression analyses were conducted to examine the proportion of unique variance in cognitive and volumetric measures accounted for by aerobic fitness after controlling for covariates (age, gender, and waist circumference).


Aerobic fitness accounted for a significant amount of unique variance in processing speed (adjusted R (2) = .44), executive function (adjusted R (2) = .34), and hippocampal volume (adjusted R (2) = .27).


This novel pattern of results suggests that obesity does not preclude the benefits of fitness for cognition and brain volume in older adults. Fitness appears to be a beneficial factor for maintenance of processing speed, executive function, and hippocampal volume, which are vulnerable to age- and/or obesity-related decline.

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