While cognitive and physical decline is expected in old age, experts have been trying to pinpoint which one tends to happen first.
Now, researchers have determined that cognition is the first faculty to weaken, and once it does, muscle strength typically isn’t too far behind.
“Correlations have been established between these two factors, particularly in terms of memory, but also regarding the growth and survival of new neurons,” said researcher Boris Cheval. “But we have never yet formally tested which comes first: does physical activity prevent a decline in cognitive skills or vice versa? That’s what we wanted to verify.”
Patterns in old age
To better understand the relationship between cognitive and physical decline, the researchers analyzed over 100,000 people, all between the ages of 50 and 59. The researchers observed the participants for 12 years and regularly tested their physical and cognitive abilities.
Because they were most interested in understanding which factor influenced the other during the aging process, the researchers analyzed their results through three different lenses. The first assessed whether physical activity affected cognition, the second assessed if the opposite was true, and then the final one assessed if both factors were affecting each other simultaneously.
Ultimately, the researchers learned that cognitive function impacts physical activity. The study found that those who struggled with memory or staying focused were also more likely to be sedentary, which can negatively affect consumers throughout the aging process.
Staying mentally sharp allowed the participants to stay more physically active, even as they continued to age. The findings highlight the importance of keeping the mind active, as doing so can help consumers in countless ways.
“This study backs up our theory that the brain has to make a real effort to get out of a sedentary lifestyle and that by working on cognitive capacities, physical activity will follow,” said Cheval.