Aerobic exercise to improve cognitive function in older people without known cognitive impairment

Evidence Summaries

Level of Evidence = B
Aerobic physical activities, including those which successfully improve cardiorespiratory fitness, appear not to have any cognitive benefit in cognitively healthy older adults.

A Cochrane review 1 included 12 studies with a total of 754 subjects. Participants had to be aged 55 or older and not cognitively impaired in any way. Studies examining participants with age-related illnesses were included, as there were studies without specified inclusion or exclusion criteria. Physical activity was considered to be any programme of exercise of any intensity, duration or frequency which was aimed at improving cardiorespiratory fitness. When aerobic exercise was compared to any active intervention, there was no evidence of benefit from it in any cognitive domain. This was also true of analyses comparing aerobic exercise to no intervention. Analysing only the subgroup of trials in which cardiorespiratory fitness improved in the aerobic exercise group showed that this improvement did not coincide with improvements in any cognitive domains assessed. The subgroup analyses of aerobic exercise versus flexibility or balance interventions also showed no benefit of aerobic exercise in any cognitive domain. Dropout rates did not differ between aerobic exercise and control groups.

Comment: The quality of evidence is downgraded by inconsistency (heterogeneity in participants and interventions).


1. Young J, Angevaren M, Rusted J et al. Aerobic exercise to improve cognitive function in older people without known cognitive impairment. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2015;4():CD005381.  [PMID:25900537].

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