Background: By 2030, about 74 million people will be diagnosed with dementia, and many more will experience subjective (SCI) or mild cognitive impairment (MCI). As physical inactivity has been identified to be a strong modifiable risk factor for dementia, exercise and physical activity (PA) may be important parameters to predict the progression from MCI to dementia, but might also represent disease trajectory modifying strategies for SCI and MCI. Objective: A better understanding of the relationship between activity, fitness, and cognitive function across the spectrum of MCI and SCI would provide an insight into the potential utility of PA and fitness as early markers, and treatment targets to prevent cognitive decline. Methods: 121 participants were stratified into three groups, late MCI (LMCI), early MCI (EMCI), and SCI based on the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA). Cognitive function assessments also included the Trail Making Test A+B, and a verbal fluency test. PA levels were evaluated with an interviewer-administered questionnaire (LAPAQ) and an activity monitor. An incremental exercise test was performed to estimate cardiorespiratory fitness and to determine exercise capacity relative to population normative data. Results: ANCOVA revealed that LMCI subjects had the lowest PA levels (LAPAQ, p = 0.018; activity monitor, p = 0.041), and the lowest exercise capacity in relation to normative values (p = 0.041). Moreover, a modest correlation between MoCA and cardiorespiratory fitness (r = 0.25; p < 0.05) was found. Conclusion: These findings suggest that during the earliest stages of cognitive impairment PA and exercise capacity might present a marker for the risk of further cognitive decline. This finding warrants further investigation using longitudinal cohort studies.
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