In recent years, the link between physical activity and cognitive health has garnered significant attention in the fitness and health community. With an aging population and the prevalence of hypertension, finding effective ways to preserve cognitive function and prevent dementia has become a crucial aspect of health management. A recent study titled “Effect of Vigorous-Intensity Physical Activity on Incident Cognitive Impairment in High-Risk Hypertension” by Richard Kazibwe and colleagues provides compelling evidence on the protective effects of vigorous-intensity physical activity (VPA) against cognitive decline. This article delves into the study’s details, results, and practical applications for fitness professionals and nutrition coaches aiming to enhance their clients’ overall wellbeing.

The Study

The study by Kazibwe et al. investigated the impact of VPA on the risk of developing mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and probable dementia among individuals with high-risk hypertension. Conducted as part of the larger SPRINT MIND study, this research aimed to fill gaps in the understanding of how physical activity intensity affects cognitive health, particularly in a high-risk population.

The Why

Hypertension is a significant risk factor for cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases and is associated with an increased risk of cognitive impairment and dementia. With over 65 million people living with dementia worldwide—a number projected to exceed 175 million by 2050—it is essential to identify modifiable factors that can mitigate this risk. Previous studies have highlighted the benefits of physical activity in slowing cognitive decline, but the optimal volume and intensity of activity remained unclear. This study specifically aimed to evaluate the effects of VPA on cognitive outcomes in individuals with hypertension.

The How

The study utilised data from the SPRINT MIND trial, which included 7670 non-diabetic U.S. adults aged 50 and above with high cardiovascular disease risk and hypertension. Participants were asked to self-report their frequency of VPA over the past 12 months, defined as activities that make one sweat, increase heart rate, or increase breathing. Based on their responses, participants were categorised into two groups: low VPA (<1 session/week) and high VPA (≥1 session/week).

Cognitive outcomes, including incidents of MCI, probable dementia, and a composite of both, were assessed through a series of in-person cognitive tests and questionnaires. The study employed multivariable Cox regression models to analyse the association between VPA and cognitive outcomes, adjusting for various demographic and health-related covariates.

The Results

The study’s findings were significant. Participants in the high VPA group had lower event rates of MCI, probable dementia, and the composite outcome compared to those in the low VPA group. Specifically, the high VPA group experienced lower rates of:

  • MCI: 13.9 vs. 19.7 events per 1000 person-years
  • Probable dementia: 6.3 vs. 9.0 events per 1000 person-years
  • Composite of MCI and probable dementia: 18.5 vs. 25.8 events per 1000 person-years

After adjusting for various factors, the high VPA group showed a significantly lower risk of MCI (HR 0.81), probable dementia (HR 0.80), and the composite outcome (HR 0.82). The protective effect of VPA was consistent across different subgroups, including age, race, and baseline hypertension severity.

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Implications for Us

The results of this study provide actionable insights for us as fitness professionals and nutrition coaches. Here’s how this information can be utilised to better assist clients of various ages and health statuses:

Promoting Cognitive Health

Fitness professionals can emphasise the role of regular vigorous-intensity physical activity in preserving cognitive function. This information can be a powerful motivator for clients, especially those with hypertension, to engage in regular high-intensity exercise as a preventive measure against cognitive decline.

Exercise Prescription

Based on the study, incorporating at least one session of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week can significantly reduce the risk of cognitive impairment. Fitness professionals can design personalised workout plans that include activities such as running, cycling, swimming, or high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

Educational Campaigns

Nutrition coaches and fitness trainers can educate their clients about the broader benefits of physical activity beyond weight management and cardiovascular health. Highlighting its role in reducing the risk of dementia and cognitive impairment can help clients appreciate the full spectrum of benefits associated with regular exercise.

Holistic Health Approach

Combining nutritional guidance with physical activity offers a comprehensive strategy for managing hypertension and reducing the risk of cognitive decline. Nutrition coaches can emphasise diets that support brain health, such as those rich in omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory foods.

Targeted Interventions

For clients aged 50 and above or those with high cardiovascular risk, tailored interventions that combine dietary improvements with increased vigorous physical activity can be particularly beneficial. Such targeted strategies can help manage hypertension effectively while also protecting cognitive health.

Community and Support Programmes

Fitness and nutrition professionals can collaborate to create community-based programmes and support groups. These programmes can encourage regular participation in vigorous physical activities and promote healthy eating habits to mitigate the risks associated with hypertension and cognitive decline.

The study by Kazibwe et al. provides compelling evidence that regular vigorous-intensity physical activity can significantly reduce the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia in individuals with high-risk hypertension. For fitness professionals and nutrition coaches, these findings offer valuable insights into how they can enhance their clients’ overall health and wellbeing. By incorporating VPA into exercise routines and promoting a holistic approach to health, professionals can help their clients achieve better cognitive and cardiovascular outcomes.

By understanding and applying the findings of this study, we can play a crucial role in helping our clients maintain cognitive health and overall quality of life.


Kazibwe, R., Schaich, C. L., Muhammad, A. I., Epiu, I., Namutebi, J. H., Chevli, P. A., Kazibwe, J., Hughes, T., Rikhi, R. R., Shapiro, M. D., & Yeboah, J. (2024). Effect of vigorous-intensity physical activity on incident cognitive impairment in high-risk hypertension. Alzheimer’s & Dementia. Click here to review the full research article

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