Omega-3 fatty acids moderate effects of physical activity on cognitive function

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Abstract

Greater amounts of physical activity (PA) and omega-3 fatty acids have both been independently associated with better cognitive performance. Because of the overlapping biological effects of omega-3 fatty acids and PA, fatty acid intake may modify the effects of PA on neurocognitive function. The present study tested this hypothesis by examining whether the ratio of serum omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid levels would moderate the association between PA and executive and memory functions in 344 participants (Mean age=44.42 years, SD=6.72). The Paffenbarger Physical Activity Questionnaire (PPAQ), serum fatty acid levels, and performance on a standard neuropsychological battery were acquired on all subjects. A principal component analysis reduced the number of cognitive outcomes to three factors: n-back working memory, Trail Making test, and Logical Memory. We found a significant interaction between PA and the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid serum levels on Trail Making performance and n-back performance, such that higher amounts of omega-3 levels offset the deleterious effects of lower amounts of PA. These effects remained significant in a subsample (n=299) controlling for overall dietary fat consumption. There were no significant additive or multiplicative benefits of higher amounts of both omega-3 and PA on cognitive performance. Our results demonstrate that a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids might mitigate the effect of lower levels of PA on cognitive performance. This study illuminates the importance of understanding dietary and PA factors in tandem when exploring their effects on neurocognitive health.

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