Higher cardiovascular fitness level is associated to better cognitive dual-task performance in Master Athletes: Mediation by cardiac autonomic control

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Introduction/Purpose:This study compared cognitive performances and cardiac autonomic measures of higher fit and lower fit middle-aged and older highly active adults. The working hypotheses were that higher fit (master athletes) would show cognitive benefits in executive control conditions due to a high level of fitness compared to lower fit people and that this effect would be mediated by better cardiac autonomic adaptations in athletes.Methods:We recruited 39 highly active middle aged and older adults from Master Athletes’ organizations. All participants performed a Rockport walking test and a computerized dual-task. Cardiac autonomic control was assessed with a measure of heart rate variability. Based on the VO2max estimated by the Rockport test, a median split was performed to assess the influence of fitness level on cognitive performance and the link with heart rate variability. Those with the highest fitness level were considered Master Athletes.Results:Master Athletes showed better dual-task performances than lower fit individuals. A positive relationship between the VO2max and dual-task performances was also observed. Master Athletes demonstrated a lower resting HR and higher RR interval than lower fit individuals, and this index was specifically related to the executive conditions of the dual task.Conclusion:Our results highlight the role of fitness level on executive function in highly active middle aged and older adults and suggest that the better performances observed in highly fit individuals is mediated by cardiac autonomic control.HIGHLIGHTSFirst paper to compare executive function between lower and higher fit active people.Fitness is a major determinant of executive performance in cognitive dual task.Cardiac parasympathetic control is involved in executive performance.

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