Sensor-measured sedentariness and physical activity are differentially related to fluid and crystallized abilities in aging.

Agnieszka Z. Burzynska, Michelle W. Voss, Jason Fanning, Elizabeth A. Salerno, Neha P. Gothe, Edward McAuley, Arthur F. Kramer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Aerobic exercise and physical activity (PA) are known to benefit cognition in adulthood. However, a typical older adult spends most of the day sedentary or in light PA, behaviors that are typically poorly captured by questionnaires. To better understand the associations between time spent in different intensities of lifestyle PA and cognition, we measured average time spent daily in sedentariness, light, and moderate to vigorous PA using hip-worn sensors (ActiGraph accelerometers). We studied baseline data from 228 cognitively normal adults (Age 60–80) who took part in a clinical trial (clinical study identifier: NCT01472744). Fluid (processing speed, memory, and reasoning) and crystallized abilities (vocabulary knowledge) were assessed with the Virginia Cognitive Aging Battery. Adjusting for age, sex, and several modifiable socioeconomic, physical and functional health factors, time spent daily in moderate to vigorous PA was positively related with fluid abilities (perceptual speed and reasoning). Furthermore, we found that those spending more time sedentary performed better on vocabulary knowledge and reasoning tasks. In contrast, time spent in light PA was not related to either fluid or crystallized abilities. Our results add to the previous literature by providing the first sensor-based evidence that crystallized and fluid abilities in older age may be associated with engagement in different intensities of daily activity. Moreover, our findings suggest that the behavior of moderate to vigorous PA is at least as important in relation to cognition as the desirable long-term physiological effects of higher intensity PA and exercise.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1154-1169
Number of pages16
JournalPsychology and aging
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2020


  • aging
  • cardiorespiratory fitness
  • cognition
  • physical activity
  • sedentariness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Aging
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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