A bidirectional relationship between physical activity and executive function in older adults

Michael Daly* (Corresponding Author), David McMinn, Julia L. Allan

*Corresponding author for this work

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145 Citations (Scopus)
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Physically active lifestyles contribute to better executive function. However, it is unclear whether high levels of executive function lead people to be more active. This study uses a large sample and multi-wave data to identify whether a reciprocal association exists between physical activity and executive function. Participants were 4,555 older adults tracked across four waves of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. In each wave executive function was assessed using a verbal fluency test and a letter cancellation task and participants reported their physical activity levels. Fixed effects regressions showed that changes in executive function corresponded with changes in physical activity. In longitudinal multilevel models low levels of physical activity led to subsequent declines in executive function. Importantly, poor executive function predicted reductions in physical activity over time. This association was found to be approximately 50% larger in magnitude than the contribution of physical activity to changes in executive function. This is the first study to identify evidence for a robust bidirectional link between executive function and physical activity in a large sample of older adults tracked over time.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1044
Number of pages9
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jan 2015

Bibliographical note

Michael Daly gratefully acknowledges funding support from the Economic and Social Research Council (ES/L010437/1). David McMinn was funded by the Scottish Government, Rural and Environment Science & Analytical Services (RESAS) division. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, interpolation of these data, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.


  • physical activity
  • exective function
  • health behaviour
  • longitudinal studies
  • cognitive function
  • cognitive ability
  • longitudinal design


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