Sex moderates the effect of aerobic exercise on some aspects of cognition in cognitively intact younger and middle-age adults

Stern, Yaakov; Lee, Seonjoo; Predovan, David; Sloan, Richard P.

We recently reported the results of a randomized, parallel-group, observer-masked, community-based clinical trial of 132 cognitively normal individuals aged 20–67 with below median aerobic capacity who were randomly assigned to one of two 6-month, four-times-weekly conditions: aerobic exercise and stretching/toning. We now assessed potential sex moderation on exercise-related changes in aerobic capacity, BMI and cognitive function. There was no sex moderation of the effect of aerobic exercise on aerobic capacity or BMI. We had previously reported an effect of aerobic exercise on executive function that was moderated by age. We found additional moderation by sex, such that in any age range men improved more than women. Processing speed showed significant sex moderation but not significant age moderation. In men, processing speed significantly improved by week 12 (b = 0.35, p = 0.0051), but the effect was diminished relative to week 12 at week 24 (b = 0.24, p = 0.0578). In women, there was no exercise effect at either time point (week 12: b = −0.06, p = 0.4156; week 24: b = −0.11, p = 0.1841). Men benefited cognitively more than women from aerobic exercise. This study highlights the importance of using sex-disaggregated analyses when assessing the impact of physical exercise intervention, and the need to ascertain the underlying mechanisms for differential cognitive benefit by sex.


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Journal of Clinical Medicine

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May 4, 2021