Catherine Robb is a Research Associate at Imperial College London; Ageing Epidemiology Research Unit. Her research is primarily exploring the role of physical activity in maintaining cognitive health in older age. More specifically, she is evaluating how physical activity interacts with established genetic, imaging and fluid biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease in reducing likelihood of cognitive decline and dementia. Catherine also coordinates a large cohort observational study exploring early indicators of dementia via imaging, CSF and blood biomarkers alongside identifying sensitive cognitive assessments for detection of the earliest stage of cognitive decline.
Epidemiological data suggests an association between higher physical activity (PA) levels and lower risk of cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) later in life, even after confounder adjustment. However, due to the large clustering of AD risk factors concurrently associated with reduced PA, its independent link with reduced risk of cognitive decline remains equivocal. This does not preclude PA as a feasible means to reduce risk of cognitive decline and dementia but indeed supports this lifestyle factor as key to risk reduction. The alignment of PA with other risk factors such as obesity, smoking, alcohol consumption, and diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, only further strengthens the need to promote PA as a key lifestyle factor for not just dementia prevention but reduction of multiple and often co-morbid diseases. Randomised controlled trials have implicated exercise as a means to promote cognitive and brain plasticity. Behavioural and mechanistic outcomes have converged to support a cohesive picture. Several reviews have endorsed the claim that PA exhibits a potent effect on brain structural and functional health which are expressed symptomatically via preserved cognitive health. Critically, the magnitude of reported benefit currently exceeds that of current pharmaceutical approaches. In conclusion, the evidence supporting PA as a feasible preventative strategy, even among risk individuals, cannot be ignored.