Are a healthy diet and physical activity synergistically associated with cognitive functioning in older adults?

Willemke Nijholt, Harriët Jager, M. Visser, Cees van der Schans, Hans Hobbelen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

9 Downloads (Pure)


Objectives: Previous research has demonstrated that being both physically active and adhering a healthy diet is associated with improved cognitive functioning; however, it remains unclear whether these factors act synergistically. We investigated the synergistic association of a healthy diet and being physically active with cognitive functioning. Design: Cross-sectional study. Setting and participants: Data from the Longitudinal Aging Study Amsterdam (LASA) were used. We analyzed data from 2,165 community dwelling adults who were aged 55-85 years, 56% of whom were female. Cognitive functioning was assessed by the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE), an MMSE score of >26 indicates good cognitive functioning. Physical activity was assessed by the LASA Physical Activity Questionnaire and was considered sufficient if the person engaged in moderately intense physical activity ≥ 20 min/day. A healthy diet score was based on the intake of fruit, vegetables and fish. Each of the food groups was assigned a score that ranged from 1 (well below the Dutch guideline for a healthy diet) to 4 (well above the Dutch guideline for a healthy diet), and the scores were aggregated to determine a healthy diet (healthy ≥ 9 points). Multiple logistic and linear regression analyses were used to examine the (synergistic) association among physical activity, a healthy diet and cognitive functioning. All analyses were adjusted for potential chronic diseases and lifestyle confounders. Results: Of all of the participants, 25% were diagnosed with a cognitive impairment (MMSE ≤26), 80% were physically active and 41% had a healthy diet. Sixty three percent of the participants both adhered to a healthy diet and were physically active. Sufficient daily physical activity (OR=2.545 p<.001) and adherence to a healthy diet (OR=1.766 p=.002) were associated with good cognitive functioning. After adjusting for confounding factors, sufficient physical activity was not significantly related to cognitive functioning (p=.163); however adherence to a healthy diet remained significantly associated with good cognitive functioning (p=.017). No interaction among sufficient physical activity, healthy diet adherence and good cognitive functioning was observed (crude: p=.401, adjusted: p=.216).Conclusion: The results of this cross-sectional study indicate that adherence to a healthy diet is inde-pendently related to cognitive functioning. Being physically active does not modify this association. Furthermore, these two lifestyle factors do not synergistically relate to cognitive functioning.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)525-532
JournalThe journal of nutrition, health & aging
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2016


  • diets
  • cognition
  • ageing
  • physical activity


Dive into the research topics of 'Are a healthy diet and physical activity synergistically associated with cognitive functioning in older adults?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this