Moderate Exercise Improves Cognitive Function in Healthy Elderly People: Results of a Randomized Controlled Trial

Mauro Giovanni Carta1, *, Giulia Cossu1, Elisa Pintus1, Rosanna Zaccheddu1, Omar Callia1, Giuliana Conti1, Mirra Pintus1, Cesar Ivan Aviles Gonzalez1, Maria Valeria Massidda, Gioia Mura1, Claudia Sardu1, Paolo Contu1, Luigi Minerba2, Roberto Demontis1, Massimiliano Pau3, Gabriele Finco1, Eleonora Cocco1, Maria Pietronilla Penna4, Germano Orr5, Goce Kalcev6, Federico Cabras1, Stefano Lorrai1, Andrea Loviselli1, Fernanda Velluzzi1, Marco Monticone1, Enrico Cacace1, Mario Musu1, Franco Rongioletti1, Alberto Cauli1, Valeria Ruggiero1, Alessandra Scano1, Antonio Crisafulli1, Sofia Cosentino1, Laura Atzori1, Elena Massa1, Quirico Mela2, Dario Fortin5, Gianmario Migliaccio6, Sergio Machado7, 8, Ferdinando Romano9, Antonio Preti10
1 Dipartimento di Sanità Pubblica, Università degli studi di Cagliari, Cagliari, Italy
2 Department of Medical Sciences and Publcic Health, University of Cagliari, Cagliari, Italy
3 Dipartimento di Ingegneria Meccanica, Università degli studi di Cagliari, Chimica e Dei Materiali, Cagliari, Italy
4 Department of Education, University of Cagliari, Psychology and Philosophy, Cagliari, Italy
5 Department of Psychology and Cognitive Science, University of Trento, Trento, Italy
6 Comitato Olimpico Nazionale Italiano, Sezione Sardegna, Rome, Italy
7 Departament of Sports Methods and Techniques, Federal University of Santa Maria (UFSM), Santa Maria, Brazil
8 Laboratory of Physical Activity Neuroscience, Neurodiversity Institute, Queimados-RJ, Brazil
9 Department of Public Health and Infectious Diseases, University of Rome "La Sapienza", Rome, Italy
10 Dipartimento di Neuroscienze, Università degli studi di Torino, Turin, Italy

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© 2021 Carta et al.

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: ( This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the Department of Medical Sciences and Public Health, University of Cagliari, Cagliari, Italy, Cittadella Universitaria di Monserrato - Asse Didattico E, SS 554 bivio Sestu - 09042 Monserrato (CA); E-mail:



Physical activity in the elderly is recommended by international guidelines to protect against cognitive decline and functional impairment.


This Randomized Controlled Trial (RCT) was set up to verify whether medium-intensity physical activity in elderly people living in the community is effective in improving cognitive performance.


RCT with parallel and balanced large groups.


Academic university hospital and Olympic gyms.


People aged 65 years old and older of both genders living at home holding a medical certificate for suitability in non-competitive physical activity.


Participants were randomized to a 12-week, 3 sessions per week moderate physical activity program or to a control condition focused on cultural and recreational activities in groups of the same size and timing as the active intervention group. The active phase integrated a mixture of aerobic and anaerobic exercises, including drills of “life movements”, strength and balance. The primary outcome was: any change in Addenbrooke's Cognitive Examination Revised (ACE-R) and its subscales.


At the end of the trial, 52 people completed the active intervention, and 53 people completed the control condition. People in the active intervention improved on the ACE-R (ANOVA: F(1;102)=4.32, p=0.040), and also showed better performances on the memory (F(1;102)=5.40 p=0.022) and visual-space skills subscales of the ACE-R (F(1;102)=4.09 p=0.046).


A moderate-intensity exercise administered for a relatively short period of 12 weeks is capable of improving cognitive performance in a sample of elderly people who live independently in their homes.

Clinical Trials Registration No: NCT03858114

Keywords: Aging, Physical activity, Quality of life, RCT, Cognition, Dementia.