Mind and Body Power For Older Adults

Cognitive function enhanced with combo of mental and physical activities in older adults

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) The power of the mind can do a number on the body. When elderly adults keep the body sharp as well, the brain can stay at its best.

A recently published study found that physical and mental activities together had global effects on cognitive function in older adults.

In combating dementia and cognitive impairments, researchers said that the amount of activity might be more important than the type of activity in the elderly population.

"Stay active to help sharpen your mind."

Deborah Barnes, PhD, MPH, of the University of California, San Francisco, and colleagues looked at the effects of physical and mental activity on cognitive function in older adults.

The study included 126 inactive older adults from San Francisco with various cognitive complaints, such as feeling that memory or thinking skills had recently gotten worse.

Each participant engaged in an hour of mental activities performed at home and an hour of class-based physical activities three days a week for three months.

Patients who had dementia, neurological disorders, major psychiatric disorders and heart or lung disease were excluded from the study.

Participants were about 73 years of age on average and almost two-thirds were women. They were randomly divided into one of four groups and were assigned a mixture of physical and mental activities.

Half of the participants were assigned to a computerized mental activity intervention while the second group watched educational DVDs. Researchers did not know who was assigned to which group.

Then half of each of those groups was instructed to do an aerobic exercise routine at the YMCA. The routine included a warm up, cool down and strength training period.

The rest of the participants were assigned to stretch and do minimal muscle toning.

At the start of the study, researchers found no significant differences between the groups.

Cognitive scores for both mental activity groups improved significantly over time, regardless of their exercise activity.

And when looking at exercise alone, cognitive scores also improved in the two groups regardless of their mental activities.

"These results may suggest that in this study population, the amount of activity is more important than the type of activity because all groups participated in both mental activity and exercise for 60 minutes per day, three days per week for 12 weeks," researchers wrote in their report.

"Alternatively, the cognitive improvements observed may be due to practice effects."

The authors noted that more than a third of participants were highly educated, which might not be generalizable to other populations. The study also did not include clinical evaluations of the participants.

Certain equipment used in the study was donated by Posit Science and the Stonestown YMCA in San Francisco.

The study was released online April 1 in JAMA Internal Medicine, a JAMA Network publication.

Grants from the National Institute on Aging, the Alzheimer’s Association, the University of California School of Medicine, the Institutes of Health / National Center for Research Resources and the University of California, San Francisco–Clinical and Translational Science Institute funded the study.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 5, 2013
Last Updated:
April 7, 2013