Complex Mental and Physical Activity in Older Women and Cognitive Performance: A 6-month Randomized Controlled Trial

Department of Psychiatry, Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin CBF, Eschenallee 3, D-14050 Berlin, Germany.
The Journals of Gerontology Series A Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences (Impact Factor: 5.42). 04/2010; 65(6):680-8. DOI: 10.1093/gerona/glq053
Source: PubMed


Several reports suggest beneficial impacts of either physical or mental activity on cognitive function in old age. However, the differential effects of complex mental and physical activities on cognitive performance in humans remain to be clarified.
This randomized controlled trial evaluates a cognitive and a physical standardized 6-month activity intervention (3 x 1.5 h/wk) conducted in Berlin (Germany). Two hundred fifty nine healthy women aged 70-93 years were randomized to a computer course (n = 92), an exercise course (n = 91), or a control group (n = 76), of whom 230 completed the 6-month assessment. Group differences in change over a period of 6 months in episodic memory (story recall, possible range, 0-21; word recall, possible range, 0-16), executive control (working memory, ie, time quotient of Trail Making Tests B/A), and verbal fluency were evaluated by analyses of covariance (intention to treat) adjusting for baseline, fluid intelligence, and educational level.
In contrast to the control group, both the exercise group, DeltaM (SD) = 2.09 (2.66), p < .001, and the computer group, DeltaM (SD) =1.89 (2.88), p < .001, showed improved delayed story recall. They maintained performance in delayed word recall and working memory (time measure) as opposed to the control group that showed a decline, DeltaM (SD) = -0.91 (2.15), p = .001, and DeltaM (SD) = 0.24 (0.68), p = .04, respectively.
In healthy older women, participation in new stimulating activities contributes to cognitive fitness and might delay cognitive decline. Exercise and computer classes seem to generate equivalent beneficial effects.

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    • "Several studies have shown that regular physical activity can lead to the enhancement of neuropsychological functions, demonstrating an association between a greater aerobic capacity and improvements in these functions (Angevaren et al. 2007; Langlois et al. 2013; Klusmann et al. 2010; Sofi et al. 2011; Hamer and Chida 2009). Nevertheless, there are other studies that have not found a significant association between neuropsychological functions and physical activity (Denkinger et al. 2012) Despite the controversies, epidemiological studies suggest that moderately active individuals are at a reduced risk of suffering from mental disorders compared to sedentary individuals; thus, physical exercise provides both physical and neuropsychological benefits (Vaughan et al. 2012), and physically active individuals most likely have faster cognitive processing speeds (Langlois et al. 2013) However, it is unclear which activities are the most important for neuropsychological maintenance; beyond physical exercise, significant effects have been reported for intellectual stimulation (Hultsch et al. 1999), social engagement, and leisure activities (Wang et al. 2013). "
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    • "To date, several types of cognitive trainings are available. Several programs are aimed at improving memory (Richmond et al., 2011; Dresler et al., 2013), learning (Bailey et al., 2010), attention (Mozolic et al., 2011), executive functions (Basak et al., 2008), fluid intelligence (Jaeggi et al., 2008), mnemonic techniques, or global cognition (Klusmann et al., 2010). "
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