Cardiorespiratory fitness, hippocampal volume, and frequency of forgetting in older adults.

Author(s): Szabo AN,  McAuley E,  Erickson KI,  Voss M,  Prakash RS,  Mailey EL,  Wójcicki TR,  White SM,  Gothe N,  Olson EA,  Kramer AF

Journal: Neuropsychology

Date: 2011 Sep

Major Program(s) or Research Group(s): CPFP

PubMed ID: 21500917

PMC ID: PMC3140615

Abstract: OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this study was to extend our earlier work to determine the extent to which cardiorespiratory fitness is associated with the frequency of memory problems via its effects on the hippocampus and spatial working memory. We hypothesized that age, sex, education, body composition, and physical activity were direct determinants of fitness, which, in turn, influenced frequency of forgetting indirectly through hippocampal volume and spatial working memory. METHOD: We conducted assessments of demographic characteristics, Body Mass Index (BMI), physical activity, cardiorespiratory fitness, hippocampal volume, spatial working memory, and frequency of forgetting in 158 older adults (M age = 66.49). Path analyses within a covariance modeling framework were used to examine relationships among these constructs. RESULTS: Sex, age, BMI, and education were all significant determinants of cardiorespiratory fitness. The hypothesized path models for testing the effects of fitness on frequency of forgetting through hippocampal volume and accuracy and speed of spatial working memory all fit the data well. CONCLUSIONS: Our findings suggest that older adults with higher levels of fitness show greater preservation of hippocampal volume, which, in turn, is associated with more accurate and faster spatial memory and fewer episodes of forgetting. Given the proportion of older adults reporting memory problems, it is necessary to determine whether improvements in fitness brought about by physical activity interventions can result in subsequent attenuation of memory problems or potentially in improvements in memory.