The Association Between Light Physical Activity and Cognition Among Adults: A Scoping Review

Emily Erlenbach, Edward McAuley, Neha P Gothe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: The physical and cognitive benefits of moderate-vigorous intensity physical activity (MVPA) for adults have been well documented. Recently, there has been increasing interest in the independent health benefits of light-intensity physical activity (LPA). This research has primarily focused on the relationship between LPA and morbidity and mortality risk, with few studies investigating cognitive associations. The purpose of this scoping review was to catalog existing evidence on the association between device-based or technologically measured LPA and cognition among adults, identify trends in the literature, and recommend future areas for research. METHODS: Six electronic databases were searched between January and June 2020. Forty published studies met the inclusion criteria, which included both healthy and clinical young and older adult populations. Among the 40 articles were 14 acute exercise studies, 4 randomized control trials (RCTs), 18 cross-sectional studies, and 4 longitudinal studies. RESULTS: 7/14 (50%) acute, 3/4 (75%) RCT, 10/18 (56%) cross-sectional, and 2/4 (50%) longitudinal studies reported a significant, positive relationship between LPA and one or more cognitive outcomes. These heterogeneous findings can largely be attributed to the diverse study designs and populations, as well as the numerous assessments used to test the cognitive domains. CONCLUSION: These collective findings suggest LPA may be a potential lifestyle intervention to improve cognition across adulthood. However, the inconsistent approaches used among these studies suggest a more concerted, unified scientific approach is needed to further understand the LPA-cognition relationship.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)716-724
Number of pages9
JournalThe journals of gerontology. Series A, Biological sciences and medical sciences
Issue number4
Early online dateJan 13 2021
StatePublished - Apr 1 2021


  • Attention and processing speed
  • Executive function
  • Exercise intervention
  • Memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Aging


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