Physical activity and cognitive function: moment-to-moment and day-to-day associations

Tiia Kekäläinen, Martina Luchetti, Antonio Terracciano, Alyssa A. Gamaldo, Jacqueline Mogle, Hephzibah H. Lovett, Justin Brown, Timo Rantalainen, Martin J. Sliwinski, Angelina R. Sutin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: The beneficial effect of acute physical exercise on cognitive performance has been studied in laboratory settings and in long-term longitudinal studies. Less is known about these associations in everyday environment and on a momentary timeframe. This study investigated momentary and daily associations between physical activity and cognitive functioning in the context of everyday life. Methods: Middle-aged adults (n = 291, aged 40–70) were asked to wear accelerometers and complete ecological momentary assessments for eight consecutive days. Processing speed and visual memory were assessed three times per day and self-rated evaluations of daily cognition (memory, thinking, and sharpness of mind) were collected each night. The number of minutes spent above the active threshold (active time) and the maximum vector magnitude counts (the highest intensity obtained) before each cognitive test and at a daily level were used as predictors of momentary cognitive performance and nightly subjective cognition. Analyses were done with multilevel linear models. The models were adjusted for temporal and contextual factors, age, sex, education, and race/ethnicity. Results: When participants had a more active time or higher intensity than their average level within the 20 or 60 minutes prior to the cognitive test, they performed better on the processing speed task. On days when participants had more active time than their average day, they rated their memory in the evening better. Physical activity was not associated with visual memory or self-rated thinking and sharpness of mind. Conclusions: This study provides novel evidence that outside of laboratory settings, even small increases in physical activity boost daily processing speed abilities and self-rated memory. The finding of temporary beneficial effects is consistent with long-term longitudinal research on the cognitive benefits of physical activity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number137
JournalInternational Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Nutrition and Dietetics

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