The Lancet Regional Health - Europe, 2023

Trajectories of occupational physical activity and risk of later-life mild cognitive impairment and dementia: the HUNT4 70+ study

Background: High levels of occupational physical activity (PA) have been linked to an increased risk of dementia. We assessed the association of trajectories of occupational PA at ages 33–65 with risk of dementia and mild cognitive impairment (MCI) at ages 70+.

Methods: We included 7005 participants (49.8% were women, 3488/7005) from the HUNT4 70+ Study. Group-based trajectory modelling was used to identify four trajectories of occupational PA based on national registry data from 1960 to 2014: stable low (30.9%, 2162/7005), increasing then decreasing (8.9%, 625/7005), stable intermediate (25.1%, 1755/7005), and stable high (35.2%, 2463/7005). Dementia and MCI were clinically assessed in 2017–2019. We performed adjusted multinomial regression to estimate relative risk ratios (RRR) with 95% confidence intervals (CI) for dementia and MCI.

Findings: 902 participants were diagnosed with dementia and 2407 were diagnosed with MCI. Absolute unadjusted risks for dementia and MCI were 8.8% (95% CI: 7.6–10.0) and 27.4% (25.5–29.3), respectively, for those with a stable low PA trajectory, 8.2% (6.0–10.4) and 33.3% (29.6–37.0) for those with increasing, then decreasing PA; while they were 16.0% (14.3–17.7) and 35% (32.8–37.2) for those with stable intermediate, and 15.4% (14.0–16.8) and 40.2% (38.3–42.1) for those with stable high PA trajectories. In the adjusted model, participants with a stable high trajectory had a higher risk of dementia (RRR 1.34, 1.04–1.73) and MCI (1.80, 1.54–2.11), whereas participants with a stable intermediate trajectory had a higher risk of MCI (1.36, 1.15–1.61) compared to the stable low trajectory. While not statistically significant, participants with increasing then decreasing occupational PA had a 24% lower risk of dementia and 18% higher risk of MCI than the stable low PA group.

Interpretation: Consistently working in an occupation with intermediate or high occupational PA was linked to an increased risk of cognitive impairment, indicating the importance of developing strategies for individuals in physically demanding occupations to prevent cognitive impairment.


Ekaterina Zotcheva, Bernt Bratsberg, Bjørn Heine Strand, Astanand Jugessur, Bo Lars Engdahl, Catherine Bowen, Geir Selbæk, Hans-Peter Kohler, Jennifer R. Harris, Jordan Weiss, Sarah E. Tom, Steinar Krokstad, Teferi Mekonnen, Trine Holt Edwin, Yaakov Stern, Asta Kristine Håberg, Vegard Skirbekk

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