270123 Cognitive Health and Older Adults part 3 physical activity clinical trials
Cognitive health — the ability to clearly think, learn, and remember — is an important component of performing everyday activities. Cognitive health is just one aspect of overall brain health.
Learn more about diet and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.270123 Be Physically Active
Being physically active — through regular exercise, household chores, or other activities — has many benefits. It can help you:
- Keep and improve your strength
- Have more energy
- Improve your balance
- Prevent or delay heart disease, diabetes, and other concerns
- Perk up your mood and reduce depression
Studies link ongoing physical activity with benefits for the brain and cognition as well, although a strong link between physical activity and Alzheimer’s disease prevention has not yet been documented.
In one study, exercise stimulated the human brain’s ability to maintain old network connections and make new ones that are vital to cognitive health. Other studies have shown that exercise increases the size of a brain structure important to memory and learning, resulting in better spatial memory. Aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, is thought to be more beneficial to cognitive health than nonaerobic stretching and toning exercise. One study found that the more time spent doing a moderate levels of physical activity, the greater the increase in brain glucose metabolism — or how quickly the brain turns glucose into fuel — which may reduce the risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Federal guidelines recommend that all adults get at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of physical activity each week. Walking is a good start. You can also join programs that teach you to move safely and prevent falls, which can lead to brain and other injuries. Check with your health care provider if you haven’t been active and want to start a vigorous exercise program.
Clinical Trials on Exercise for Cognitive Health
Volunteers are needed for clinical trials that are testing different forms of exercise for cognitive health. By joining one of these studies, you may learn new ways to be physically active and also contribute useful information to help other older adults in the future! To learn more, visit the Alzheimers.gov Clinical Trials Finder to search for a trial in your area.
Keep Your Mind Active
Being intellectually engaged may benefit the brain. People who engage in personally meaningful activities, such as volunteering or hobbies, say they feel happier and healthier. Learning new skills may improve your thinking ability, too. For example, one study found that older adults who learned quilting or digital photography had more memory improvement than those who only socialized or did less cognitively demanding activities. Some of the research on engagement in activities such as music, theater, dance, and creative writing has shown promise for improving quality of life and well-being in older adults, from better memory and self-esteem to reduced stress and increased social interaction.
However, a recent, comprehensive report reviewing the design and findings of these and other studies did not find strong evidence that these types of activities have a lasting, beneficial effect on cognition. Additional research is needed, and in large numbers of diverse older adults, to be able to say definitively whether these activities may help reduce decline or maintain healthy cognition.
Lots of activities can keep your mind active. For example, read books and magazines. Play games. Take or teach a class. Learn a new skill or hobby. Work or volunteer. These types of mentally stimulating activities have not been proven to prevent serious cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease, but they can be fun! Plus, findings from observational studies suggest that some informal mentally stimulating activities, such as reading or playing games, may lower the risk of Alzheimer’s-related cognitive impairment and dementia.
Some scientists have argued that such activities may protect the brain by establishing “cognitive reserve.” They may help the brain become more adaptable in some mental functions so it can compensate for age-related brain changes and health conditions that affect the brain.
Some types of cognitive training conducted in a research setting also seem to have benefits. For the Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE) trial, healthy adults 65 and older participated in 10 sessions of memory training, reasoning training, or processing-speed training. The sessions improved participants’ mental skills in the area in which they were trained with evidence suggesting these benefits persisted for two years.
Be wary of claims that playing certain computer and online games can improve your memory and other types of thinking as evidence to back up such claims is evolving. There is currently not enough evidence available to suggest that computer-based brain training applications offered commercially have the same impact on cognitive abilities as the ACTIVE study training. NIA and other organizations are supporting research to determine whether different types of cognitive training have lasting effects.
For more information, see Participating in Activities You Enjoy.