New NIA-Funded Study to Examine Neighborhood Air Pollution, Physical Activity, and Incident Dementia

Affiliate Wei Xu received a new grant from NIA for the project “Interactive Effects of Physical Activity and Neighborhood Air Pollution on Risk of Incident Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias.” Together with co-investigators Jason Fletcher, CDHA’s director, Ozioma Okonkwo of the Department of Medicine, and Kristen Malecki of the Department of Population Health Sciences, Xu will test whether exposure to neighborhood air pollution inhibits the protective effects of physical activity on risk of incident dementia.

Physical activity is an important protective factor against dementia, a condition increasingly affecting older adults worldwide. However, only 26% of men and 19% of women in the U.S. are sufficiently active. Public health initiatives aimed at encouraging physical activity have the potential to decrease population-level dementia risk and related social costs. Yet, cumulating evidence suggests that exposure to high levels of air pollution is associated with a greater risk of dementia, meaning that the protective benefits of physical activity could be inhibited if people exercise in polluted air.

To build an understanding of the interactive effects of physical activity and air pollution, the research team aims to determine if physical activity interacts with neighborhood air pollution to impact dementia risk. Additionally, they will examine if certain types of air pollutants have a greater moderating effect on the relationship between certain types of physical activity and risk of dementia subtypes. The project will use information on adults ages between 40 and 69 years from the UK Biobank to examine the independent and interactive effects of physical activity and air pollution on incident dementia over ten years.