Author ORCID Identifier

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Vonetta Dotson

Second Advisor

Erin Tone

Third Advisor

Sarah Barber

Fourth Advisor

Rebecca Ellis


Cognitive decline and depressive symptoms are highly prevalent in older adults and associated with numerous adverse outcomes. Physical exercise may prevent and treat both cognitive decline and depressive symptoms in older adults. Walking is a particularly appealing exercise intervention because it is highly accessible, low-impact, safe, and generally well-tolerated. The goal of this project was to determine the associations among walking exercise habits, cognition, and depressive symptoms in older adults cross-sectionally and over time. Another aim was to examine the role of potentially relevant moderating variables, namely cognitive status, walking intensity, and midlife walking habits. The analyses included two years of publicly available data on walking exercise habits from the Health, Aging, and Body Composition (ABC) Study and ancillary Cognitive Vitality Substudy. In these studies, participants aged 70 and older were assessed across several cognitive domains (i.e., global cognitive function, psychomotor speed, processing speed, executive function, and verbal memory) and completed the 10-Item Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale (CES-D-10). A structural equation modeling (SEM) approach was used to model the relationships between the independent and dependent variables. This allowed for the inclusion of latent variables and multiple dependent variables in the same model. Findings from this study demonstrated that (a) walking exercise habits are associated with cognitive and mood benefits cross-sectionally and over two years; (b) these effects are mainly explained by the influence of demographic and physical factors (i.e., race, education, walking speed, and health status); (c) baseline cognitive status moderates the relationship between walking exercise habits and future global cognitive function, so that older adults with higher baseline cognitive status benefit more from exercise walking; and (d) older adults who walk at greater intensities demonstrate better cognitive functioning and mood at two-year follow-up. This study was limited in its ability to detect effects due to the lack of rigorous walking exercise measures. Future research should prioritize randomized controlled trials with robust measures where the benefits of walking exercise for older adults could be determined regardless of the impact of the covariates.


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