Late-life physical and cognitive activities independently contribute to brain and cognitive resilience

Kaitlin B. Casaletto, Miguel Arce Rentería, Judy Pa, Sarah E. Tom, Amal Harrati, Nicole M. Armstrong, K. Bharat Rajan, Dan Mungas, Samantha Walters, Joel Kramer, Laura B. Zahodne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Background: Active lifestyles are related to better cognitive aging outcomes, yet the unique role of different types of activity are unknown. Objective: To examine the independent contributions of physical (PA) versus cognitive (CA) leisure activities to brain and cognitive aging. Methods: Independent samples of non-demented older adults from University of California, San Francisco Hillblom Aging Network (UCSF; n = 344 typically aging) and University of California, Davis Diversity cohort (UCD; n = 485 normal to MCI) completed: 1) self-reported engagement in current PA and CA (UCSF: Physical Activity Scale for the Elderly and Cognitive Activity Scale; UCD: Life Experiences Assessment Form); 2) neuropsychological batteries; and 3) neuroimaging total gray matter volume, white matter hyperintensities, and/or global fractional anisotropy. PA and CA were simultaneously entered into multivariable linear regression models, adjusting for demographic characteristics and functional impairment severity. Results: Brain outcomes: In UCSF, only PA was positively associated with gray matter volume and attenuated the relationship between age and fractional anisotropy. In UCD, only CA was associated with less white matter hyperintensities and attenuated the relationship between age and gray matter volume. Cognitive outcomes: In both cohorts, greater CA, but not PA, related to better cognition, independent of age and brain structure. In UCSF, CA attenuated the relationship between fractional anisotropy and cognition. In UCD, PA attenuated the association between white matter hyperintensities and cognition. Conclusions: Although their specificity was not easily teased apart, both PA and CA are clearly related to better brain and cognitive resilience markers across cohorts with differing educational, racial, and disease statuses. PA and CA may independently contribute to converging neuroprotective pathways for brain and cognitive aging.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)363-376
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Alzheimer's Disease
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020


  • Brain aging
  • cognitive aging
  • exercise
  • mental stimulation
  • reserve

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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