Increased frequency of light physical activity during midlife and old age buffers against cognitive declines

Jeremy M. Hamm, Kelly Parker, Margie E. Lachman, Jacqueline A. Mogle, Katherine A. Duggan, Ryan McGrath

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Although it is well established that moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) buffers against declines in cognitive health, less is known about the benefits of light physical activity (LPA). Research on the role of LPA is crucial to advancing behavioral interventions to improve late life health outcomes, including cognitive functioning, because this form of physical activity remains more feasible and amenable to change in old age. Our study examined the extent to which increases in LPA frequency protected against longitudinal declines in cognitive functioning and whether such a relationship becomes pronounced in old age when opportunities for MVPA are typically reduced. We analyzed 9-year data from the national Midlife in the United States Study (n = 2,229; Mage = 56 years, range = 33–83; 56% female) using autoregressive models that assessed whether change in LPA frequency predicted corresponding changes in episodic memory and executive functioning in middle and later adulthood. Increases in LPA frequency predicted less decline in episodic memory (β = 0.06, p =.004) and executive functioning (β = 0.14, p <.001) over the 9-year follow-up period, even when controlling for moderate and vigorous physical activity. Effect sizes for moderate and vigorous physical activity were less than half that observed for LPA. Moderation models showed that, for episodic memory, the benefits of increases in LPA frequency were more pronounced at older ages. Findings suggest that increases in LPA over extended periods of time may help slow age-related cognitive declines, particularly in later life when opportunities for MVPA are often diminished.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Behavioral Medicine
StateAccepted/In press - 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

Cite this