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Leisure-time physical activity over the life course and cognitive functioning in late mid-adult years: a cohort-based investigation

  • A. Dregan (a1) and M. C. Gulliford (a1)

The objective of the present study was to estimate the association between different leisure-time physical activity (LTPA) parameters from 11 to 50 years and cognitive functioning in late mid-adulthood.


The study used a prospective birth cohort study including participants in the UK National Child Development Study (NCDS) from age 11 to 50 years. Standardized z scores for cognitive, memory and executive functioning at age 50 represented the primary outcome measures. Exposures included self-reported LTPA at ages 11, 16, 33, 42, 46 and 50 years. Analyses were adjusted for important confounders including educational attainment and long-standing illness.


The adjusted difference in cognition score between women who reported LTPA for at least 4 days/week in five surveys or more and those who never reported LTPA for at least 4 days/week was 0.28 [95% confidence interval (CI) 0.20–0.35], 0.10 (95% CI 0.01–0.19) for memory score and 0.30 (95% CI 0.23–0.38) for executive functioning score. For men, the equivalent differences were: cognition 0.12 (95% CI 0.05–0.18), memory 0.06 (95% CI − 0.02 to 0.14) and executive functioning 0.16 (95% CI 0.10–0.23).


This study provides novel evidence about the lifelong association between LTPA and memory and executive functioning in mid-adult years. Participation in low-frequency and low-intensity LTPA was positively associated with cognitive functioning in late mid-adult years for men and women. The greatest benefit emerged from participating in lifelong intensive LTPA.

Corresponding author
*Address for correspondence: Dr A. Dregan, NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at Guy's and St Thomas'NHS Foundation Trust and King's College London, Department of Primary Care and Public Health, 6th Floor, Capital House, 42 Weston Street, London SE1 3QD, UK. (Email:
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Psychological Medicine
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