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A life-span perspective on physical activity, fitness, cognitive function, and mental health: Longitudinal associations, explanatory mechanisms, and moderators

Research project Physical activity and fitness have been linked to health-related benefits, such as less cognitive decline and reduced risk of depression. However, we still have limited understanding of the long-term associations between physical activity, fitness, cognitive function, and mental health.

This project aims to gain increased understanding of the life-span associations between physical activity, fitness, cognitive function, and mental health across different phases in life. To reach this aim we will use data from new unique databases based on combinations of existing population studies and registers, use existing data from life-span studies, and collect new intensive longitudinal data.

Head of project

Andreas Stenling
Associate professor
E-mail
Email

Project overview

Project period:

2017-07-01 2020-06-30

Funding

Swedish Research Council

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Department of Psychology

Research area

Psychology
  • Project members

    External project members

    Professor Magnus Lindwall, University of Gothenburg & The Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences (GIH)

    Associate Professor Liana Machado, University of Otago

Project description

The proportion of people aged over 60 years is growing faster than any other age group in almost every country and the global numbers of adults aged 65 and older is expected to double to around 2 billion by 2050. On the one hand, this statistic is a success for public health policies and socioeconomic development, yet on the other it also brings societal challenges associated with an aging population (e.g., increased burden on health and social care systems). By the year 2050 it is expected that the prevalence of dementia worldwide could exceed 130 million individuals without effective intervention or treatment. Such prognoses highlight the imperative to identify protective factors that delay and/or reduce development of age-related cognitive decline. A promising approach is to encourage higher levels of physical activity, which may delay and/or reduce the progression of cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s, and dementia, in addition to providing other health-related benefits,

such as improved cardiovascular function and reduced risk of depression. Many  potentially preventable risk exposures and causes of age-related disease begin early in childhood, hence, it is important to study these processes from young age, which will provide prospective measures of exposures and the damage they cause (e.g., to the brain), while etiological processes are unfolding. Taking a life-span approach and exploring associations across different phases in life will enable a detailed account of early- and later-life risk-factors for ill-health and cognitive decline.

The purpose of this research project is to gain increased understanding of the longitudinal associations between physical activity, physical fitness, cognitive function, and mental health across the life span. In this project we will use data from new unique databases based on combinations of existing population studies and registers, make innovative use of existing data, and collect new data using an intensive longitudinal design. Given that the longitudinal associations between physical activity, fitness, and health are likely not universal (i.e., equally strong for everyone), an important task is to “zoom in” and examine when, why, and for whom the associations are particularly strong (or weak). Therefore, to obtain more detailed insight into the nature of the life-span associations, we will also examine mediators and moderators of these associations.