Cardiorespiratory fitness and hippocampal volume predict faster episodic associative learning in older adults

Rachel C. Cole, Eliot Hazeltine, Timothy B. Weng, Conner Wharff, Lyndsey E. DuBose, Phillip Schmid, Gardar Sigurdsson, Vincent A. Magnotta, Gary L. Pierce, Michelle W. Voss

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Declining episodic memory is common among otherwise healthy older adults, in part due to negative effects of aging on hippocampal circuits. However, there is significant variability between individuals in severity of aging effects on the hippocampus and subsequent memory decline. Importantly, variability may be influenced by modifiable protective physiological factors such as cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF). More research is needed to better understand which aspects of cognition that decline with aging benefit most from CRF. The current study evaluated the relation of CRF with learning rate on the episodic associative learning (EAL) task, a task designed specifically to target hippocampal-dependent relational binding and to evaluate learning with repeated occurrences. Results show higher CRF was associated with faster learning rate. Larger hippocampal volume was also associated with faster learning rate, though hippocampal volume did not mediate the relationship between CRF and learning rate. Furthermore, to support the distinction between learning item relations and learning higher-order sequences, which declines with aging but is largely reliant on extra-hippocampal learning systems, we found learning rate on the EAL task was not related to motor sequence learning on the alternating serial reaction time task. Motor sequence learning was also not correlated with hippocampal volume. Thus, for the first time, we show that both higher CRF and larger hippocampal volume in healthy older adults are related to enhanced rate of relational memory acquisition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)143-155
Number of pages13
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.


  • aging
  • binding
  • cardiorespiratory fitness
  • episodic memory
  • hippocampus

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural


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