Physical Activity Interventions in Preventing Cognitive Decline and Alzheimer-Type Dementia

2017 Dec 19. doi: 10.7326/M17-1528. [Epub ahead of print]

Physical Activity Interventions in Preventing Cognitive Decline and Alzheimer-Type Dementia: A Systematic Review.

Brasure M1, Desai P1, Davila H1, Nelson VA1, Calvert C1, Jutkowitz E1, Butler M1, Fink HA1, Ratner E1, Hemmy LS1, McCarten JR1, Barclay TR1, Kane RL1.



The prevalence of cognitive impairment and dementia is expected to increase dramatically as the population ages, creating burdens on families and health care systems.


To assess the effectiveness of physical activity interventions in slowing cognitive decline and delaying the onset of cognitive impairment and dementia in adults without diagnosed cognitive impairments.

Data Sources

Several electronic databases from January 2009 to July 2017 and bibliographies of systematic reviews.

Study Selection

Trials published in English that lasted 6 months or longer, enrolled adults without clinically diagnosed cognitive impairments, and compared cognitive and dementia outcomes between physical activity interventions and inactive controls.

Data Extraction

Extraction by 1 reviewer and confirmed by a second; dual-reviewer assessment of risk of bias; consensus determination of strength of evidence.

Data Synthesis

Of 32 eligible trials, 16 with low to moderate risk of bias compared a physical activity intervention with an inactive control. Most trials had 6-month follow-up; a few had 1- or 2-year follow-up. Evidence was insufficient to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of aerobic training, resistance training, or tai chi for improving cognition. Low-strength evidence showed that multicomponent physical activity interventions had no effect on cognitive function. Low-strength evidence showed that a multidomain intervention comprising physical activity, diet, and cognitive training improved several cognitive outcomes. Evidence regarding effects on dementia prevention was insufficient for all physical activity interventions.


Heterogeneous interventions and cognitive test measures, small and underpowered studies, and inability to assess the clinical significance of cognitive test outcomes.


Evidence that short-term, single-component physical activity interventions promote cognitive function and prevent cognitive decline or dementia in older adults is largely insufficient. A multidomain intervention showed a delay in cognitive decline (low-strength evidence).


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