Physical activity and cognitive function in a cross-section of younger and older community-dwelling individuals

Charles H. Hillman, Robert W. Motl, Matthew B. Pontifex, Danielle Posthuma, Janine H. Stubbe, Dorret I. Boomsma, Eco J.C. De Geus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Previous reports have indicated a small, positive relationship between physical activity and cognition. However, the majority of research has focused on older adults, with few studies examining this relationship during earlier periods of the life span. This study examined the relationship of physical activity to cognition in a cross-section of 241 community-dwelling individuals 15-71 years of age with a task requiring variable amounts of executive control. Data were analyzed with multiple regression, which controlled for age, sex, and IQ. Participants reported their physical activity behavior and were tested for reaction time (RT) and response accuracy on congruent and incongruent conditions of a flanker task, which manipulates interference control. After controlling for confounding variables, an age-related slowing of RT was observed during both congruent and incongruent flanker conditions. However, physical activity was associated with faster RT during these conditions, regardless of age. Response accuracy findings indicated that increased physical activity was associated with better performance only during the incongruent condition for the older cohort. Findings suggest that physical activity may be beneficial to both general and selective aspects of cognition, particularly among older adults.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)678-687
Number of pages10
JournalHealth Psychology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Age differences
  • Cognition
  • Eriksen flanker task
  • Exercise
  • Fitness
  • Interference control

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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