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Cardiorespiratory fitness, muscle strength, brain volumes and cognition in aging men and women: A population-based study

As the number of older adults increases in Finland and worldwide, late-life cognitive impairment and dementia due to neurodegenerative and vascular disorders are common challenges in our society. All actions that could delay the onset of cognitive impairment are of major significance from both a humane and economic point of view. Heikki Pentikäinen, MHSc, investigated the association between cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) and brain volume and the associations of CRF and muscle strength with cognitive function in older men and women in his doctoral thesis.

CRF was assessed as peak oxygen uptake (VO2peak ml/kg/min or L/min) by respiratory gas analysis in a maximal symptom-limited exercise stress test on a cycle ergometer. Handgrip strength and strength of the main muscle groups of lower and upper body was extensively tested with three (knee extension, knee flexion, leg press) and two (chest press, seated row) exercises, respectively. Cognitive functions were assessed using an extensive neuropsychological test battery (NTB) and using the Consortium to Establish a Registry for Alzheimer’s Disease (CERAD) neuropsychological test battery from which the CERAD total score was calculated. Brain magnetic resonance imaging was conducted and brain measure was performed using automatic segmentation methods.

Higher CRF was associated with larger cortical and total grey matter volumes in ageing men at increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease, but not in women. Extensively measured lower and upper body muscle strength was positively associated with global cognition but no association was observed between handgrip strength and global cognition. Over two years, CRF was positively associated with global cognition, executive functions and processing speed but not with memory.

This doctoral thesis suggests that higher CRF is associated with larger total grey matter volumes in ageing men at increased risk for cognitive impairment, and that higher CRF and higher muscle strength are both independently associated with better cognitive functions in ageing men and women.

The doctoral dissertation of Heikki Pentikäinen, Master of Health Sciences, entitled Cardiorespiratory fitness, muscle strength, brain volumes and cognition in aging men and women: A population-based study, will be examined at the Faculty of Health Sciences on 31 January 2020. The Opponent in the public examination will be Professor Urho Kujala of the University of Jyväskylä, and the Custos will be Professor Emeritus Rainer Rauramaa.

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