In a study published July 9 in the journal PLOS ONE, participants aged 65 or older with no signs of cognitive impairment were put in a randomized control trial designed by Jeffry Burns, MD. Dr. Burns is a professor of neurology and co-director of the University of Kansas Medical Center’s Alzheimer’s Disease Center. One group exercised for 150 minutes per week, a second for 75 minutes per week, and a third for 225 minutes per week.
The results were very interesting—while all groups showed improvement in some crucial areas of cognitive functioning, the more exercise the subjects did, the more their visual-spatial processing (e.g., the ability to accurately gauge how far objects are from each other)improve. Far more importantly, the more they exercised, the more their attention span and ability to cognitively focus either improved or, in some instances, declined at a slower rate.
Another finding is this study was more interesting—the intensity of the exercise had a larger positive impact on cognition than the amount of time exercised. “ For improved brain function, the results suggest that it’s not enough just to exercise more,” said lead author Eric Vidoni, a research associate professor at KU Medical Center, “you have to do it in a way that bumps up your overall fitness level.”
Unfortunately, this study was conducted over a relatively short (six-month) time span with a small sample size, so the results are only suggestive and not conclusive at this time. (Full study: click here) Nevertheless, the findings are so promising that I believe it is important for all allied health professionals working with the elderly (PTs. OTs, and SLPs) should do whatever they can to promote the important of strenuous exercise at least three times a week with their patients (with medical consent of course). Unfortunately, most group exercise for people over 65 focuses far more on exercise that is not very strenuous.
As therapists, we have the opportunity to help promote an understanding with our elderly patients the power and impact of the physical on both their mental and physical well being .
Robert Hoyt, Ph.D.
Allied Health Professionals LLC