THE QUESTION Physical activity has proven benefits for the brain. Might adding mental exercise to the physical boost the effect?
THIS STUDY randomly assigned 79 adults older than 55, most in their late 70s or early 80s, to exercise for 45 minutes, five days a week, on a recumbent stationary bicycle or on a cybercycle, a recumbent bike equipped with a computerized screen that allowed interactive virtual-reality gaming. The cybercyclists participated in simulated bike tours and races while exercising. All participants were given periodic cognitive tests. After three months, those who cybercycled had, on average, improved their scores on tests of executive function, which indicate abilities such as planning, organizing and problem-solving. People who simply pedaled recorded no cognitive improvements. Also, cybercyclists were 23 percent less likely than the others to have developed mild cognitive impairment.
WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? Older adults. Only about 14 percent of people age 65 to 74 and 7 percent of those 75 and older exercise regularly. Some cognitive decline, including lapses in memory and other mental functioning, is considered normal as people age, but studies have suggested that stimulating the mind by staying mentally active may help.
CAVEATS No other combinations of virtual-reality activity and exercise were tested. The authors expressed hope that virtual-reality-enhanced exercise would increase the appeal of becoming physically active, but the study did not evaluate that.
FIND THIS STUDY February issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine (www.
The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.