Background: Few studies have explored the relations between naturally occurring changes in physical activity and cognitive performance in later life. This study examined prospective associations between changes in physical activity and cognitive performance in a population-based sample of Taiwanese older adults during an 11-year period. Methods: Analyses were based on nationally representative data from the Taiwan Health and Living Status of the Elderly Survey collected in 1996, 1999, 2003, and 2007. Data from a fixed cohort of 1160 participants who were aged 67 years or older in 1996 and followed for 11 years were included. Cognitive performance (outcome) was assessed using 5 questions from the Short Portable Mental Status Questionnaire. Physical activity (exposure) was self-reported as number of sessions per week. The latent growth model was used to examine associations between changes in physical activity and cognitive performance after controlling for sociodemographic variables, lifestyle behaviors, and health status. Results: With multivariate adjustment, higher initial levels of physical activity were significantly associated with better initial cognitive performance (standardized coefficient β = 0.17). A higher level of physical activity at baseline (1996) was significantly related to slower decline in cognitive performance, as compared with a lower level of activity (β = 0.22). The association between changes in physical activity and changes in cognitive performance was stronger (β = 0.36) than the previous 2 associations. The effect remained after excluding participants with cognitive decline before baseline. Conclusions: Physical activity in later life is associated with slower age-related cognitive decline.
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