Publication Date

Spring 2018

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Valerie Carr


aerobic capacity, aerobic fitness, episodic memory, older adults, pattern separation, six minute walk test

Subject Areas

Cognitive psychology; Psychobiology; Experimental psychology


The goal of this research was to examine the relationship between aerobic capacity and memory in older adults. Prior research demonstrated an age-related decline in episodic memory (memory for episodes and events), which may be partially due to a decreasing ability to engage in pattern separation – the ability to form new memories that are sufficiently distinct from prior memories. Studies in rodents suggested that aerobic exercise may improve pattern separation abilities in older animals, but similar research in humans is lacking. Here, I investigated whether individual differences on a memory test that taxes pattern separation were associated with differences in aerobic capacity in 21 older adults aged 66-84 years old. Analyses indicate that memory performance was negatively associated with heart rate recorded during a fitness test, such that greater aerobic capacity (i.e., lower heart rate) was associated with better memory performance. This relationship held true regardless of task difficulty. However, when age was controlled for, this negative relationship was no longer significant. Additional analyses revealed that neither lifestyle factors such as lifetime physical activity or intake of healthy fats, nor depression symptoms, were related to memory performance. Given the limited sample size of this pilot study, caution is warranted in interpreting results. However, the promising relationship between aerobic capacity and memory performance may provide useful in informing future studies involving aerobic exercise interventions in older adults in an effort to improve episodic memory.