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Effects of Physical Inactivity on Health: Part 4 - Cognitive Function

alzheimers cognitive decline cognitve performance dementia physical activity physical inactivity Sep 07, 2022

Introduction

In this series, this is the last blog on the effects of physical inactivity on health. The goal of these blogs was to establish key factors that contribute to our decline in health. I believe that a majority of physical inactivity begins with a musculoskeletal injury. This is the step in which I believe an intervention is most crucial, before it spirals out of control. It’s very common to eliminate activities that cause pain, accepting a painful state as the new normal; not knowing that this creates a cascade of negative effects on health that won’t be revealed until later in life. The last health condition physical activity provides a protection from that we’re going to discuss here is cognitive function, particularly performance, cognitive impairment, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Cognitive Function and Dementia

Cognitive function occurs by engaging all aspects of intellectual processing, like, information interpretation, reasoning, memory, and critical thinking. It is a process by which we use to establish collective reasoning and an understanding of situations, people, and life. It has been demonstrated that physical activity increases the cognitive development of specific brain regions and reduces cognitive abilities in those who are physically inactivity. (1) A study was conducted observing the relationship of physical activity in older women and the prevalence of cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s disease, and any type of dementia. They found that dementia in older women who have low physical activity levels increases the risk of cognitive impairment by 72%, Alzheimer’s disease by 60%, and any type of dementia by 59%. (2) Another study found a decreased cognitive function and a 20% increased risk of cognitive impairment in women 71-80 years old in ~18,000 who had longer bouts of lower physical inactivity levels. (3) These studies help to demonstrate protective mechanisms that physical activity creates against cognitive decline and dementia amongst the elderly population.

Cognitive Performance

When assessing cognitive function and physical activity levels, we’re looking at processing information, collective reasoning, and understanding of concepts. A study looked at physical activity in the teenage years, which found that those who are more physically active within those years show improved cognitive abilities and slower cognitive impairments later in life. (4) Not only that, but children who are more physically active (4-18) are linked with increased overall achievement, developmental level/academic readiness, and math test scores (5). It has also been shown that children who are less physically active tend to have a lower cognitive performance, compared to children who are more physically active (6). To that effect, children who had higher levels of physical activity had an enhanced executive function, like, decision making, task prioritization, time management and organization of activities and thoughts. (7)

Conclusion

Throughout these 4 blogs, I’ve tried to outline the health benefits physical activity offers and the detriments for the lack thereof. The overarching themes common amongst these blogs is that you can control your own health to a certain degree. Many people believe their health is out of their control and their fate is determined by their genetic coding, which as outlined in these blogs is not true. That’s powerful to know. That you can affect your health by the choices you make on a day to day basis and those choices can influence the fate of your health. Where do we as a clinic fit into this equation? Habits and routines are so frail and can be derailed with the slightest shift caused by life. This includes injuries. Just as a domino falls, one thing leads to another and all of the sudden we’ve adopted daily unhealthy habits. We want to intervene as quickly as possible to keep people moving and to pave the way for people who aren’t physically active due to an injury or as a result of pain. We want to move beyond pain and discover your true strength. Thank you for reading!

References:

  1. Voss, Michelle W., et al. “Bridging Animal and Human Models of Exercise-Induced Brain Plasticity.” Trends in Cognitive Sciences, vol. 17, no. 10, 2013, pp. 525–544., https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2013.08.001. 
  2. Laurin, Danielle, et al. “Physical Activity and Risk of Cognitive Impairment and Dementia in Elderly Persons.” Archives of Neurology, vol. 58, no. 3, 2001, https://doi.org/10.1001/archneur.58.3.498. 
  3. Weuve, Jennifer. “Physical Activity, Including Walking, and Cognitive Function in Older Women.” JAMA, vol. 292, no. 12, 2004, p. 1454., https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.292.12.1454. 
  4. Middleton, Laura E., et al. “Physical Activity over the Life Course and Its Association with Cognitive Performance and Impairment in Old Age.” Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, vol. 58, no. 7, 2010, pp. 1322–1326., https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1532-5415.2010.02903.x. 
  5. Etnier, Jennifer L., et al. “A Meta-Regression to Examine the Relationship between Aerobic Fitness and Cognitive Performance.” Brain Research Reviews, vol. 52, no. 1, 2006, pp. 119–130., https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brainresrev.2006.01.002. 
  6. Buck, Sarah M., et al. “The Relation of Aerobic Fitness to Stroop Task Performance in Preadolescent Children.” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, vol. 40, no. 1, 2008, pp. 166–172., https://doi.org/10.1249/mss.0b013e318159b035. 
  7. Tomporowski, Phillip D., et al. “Exercise and Children’s Intelligence, Cognition, and Academic Achievement.” Educational Psychology Review, vol. 20, no. 2, 2007, pp. 111–131., https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-007-9057-0.
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