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Cognitive function explains the association between academic education and increased physical activity


  • Boris Cheval University of Geneva
  • Ilyes Saoudi
  • Silvio Maltagliati
  • Layan Fessler
  • Ata Farajzadeh
  • Stefan Sieber
  • Stéphane Cullati
  • Matthieu Boisgontier



Educational status, cognition, exercise, aging, longitudinal studies


Background: A higher level of academic education is associated with higher levels of physical activity across the life course. However, the mechanisms underlying this association remain unclear. Cognitive functioning is a potential mediator of this association, as higher levels of education are associated with better cognitive function, which is associated with greater engagement in physical activity. Therefore, this study aimed to investigate whether cognitive function mediates the relationship between education and physical activity.

Methods: We used large-scale longitudinal data from 96,990 adults 50 years of age or older (54% women) from the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE). Education and physical activity were self-reported. Two indicators of cognitive function including delayed recall and verbal fluency were measured using cognitive tests. All measures were collected seven times between 2004 and 2019. The mediating role of cognitive function was tested using multilevel mediation analyses.

Results: Higher levels of education were associated with better cognitive function, which was associated with higher physical activity, demonstrating an indirect effect of education on physical activity through cognitive function. Cognitive function explained 91.6% of the total effect of education on physical activity. Moreover, education was no longer significantly associated with physical activity after adjustment for cognitive function.

Conclusions: These findings suggest that cognitive function mediates the association between education and physical activity. This study provides new evidence for the beneficial role of education and cognitive function in regulating physical activity in older adults.


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