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Exercise and Mindfulness Don’t Appear to Boost Cognitive Function in Older Adults

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Exercise and Mindfulness Don’t Appear to Boost Cognitive Function in Older Adults

Summary: While exercise and mindfulness help older adults stay physically and mentally fit, they may not have as beneficial an impact on cognition as previously believed.

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A large study that looked at whether exercise and mindfulness training could improve cognitive function in older adults found no such improvement after either intervention.

Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the University of California, San Diego studied the cognitive effects of exercise, mindfulness training, or both for up to 18 months in older adults who reported changes in age-related memory but who had not been diagnosed with any form of dementia.

The findings are published in NEVER.

“We know without a doubt that exercise is good for older adults, that it can reduce the risk of heart problems, strengthen bones, improve mood and have other beneficial effects, and it has been thought that it might also improve function. cognition,” he said. the study’s first author, Eric J. Lenze, MD, Wallace and Lucille Renard Professor and chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Washington.

“Similarly, mindfulness training is beneficial because it reduces stress, and stress can be bad for the brain. So we hypothesized that if older adults exercised regularly, practiced mindfulness, or both, there might be cognitive benefits, but that’s not what we found.”

Lenze and her colleagues still want to see if there might be some cognitive effects over a longer period of time, so they plan to continue studying this group of older adults to see if exercise and mindfulness might help prevent future cognitive declines. In this study, however, the practices did not boost cognitive function.

“Many older adults are concerned about memory,” said lead author Julie Wetherell, Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry at UC San Diego.

“It is important that studies like ours develop and test behavioral interventions to try to provide them with neuroprotection and stress reduction, as well as general health benefits.”

The researchers studied 585 adults ages 65 to 84. None had been diagnosed with dementia, but all had concerns about minor memory problems and other age-related cognitive declines.

“Minor memory problems are often considered a normal part of aging, but it’s also normal for people to worry when they notice these problems,” said Lenze, who also directs the University of Washington’s Healthy Mind Lab.

“The main goal of our lab is to help older people stay healthy by focusing on maintaining their mental and cognitive health as they age, and we were eager to see if exercise and mindfulness could offer a cognitive boost in the same way. that improve other aspects of health. Health.”

All study participants were considered cognitively normal for their age. The researchers tested them when they enrolled in the study, measuring memory and other aspects of thinking. They also performed brain imaging scans.

Participants were randomly assigned to one of four groups: a group in which subjects worked with trained exercise instructors; a group supervised by experts trained in the practice of mindfulness; a group that participated in regular exercise and mindfulness training; and a group that did neither, but met for occasional sessions focused on general health education topics. The researchers conducted follow-up memory tests and brain scans after six months and again after 18 months.

At six months and again at 18 months, all groups looked similar. All four groups performed slightly better on the tests, but the researchers believe this was due to practice effects, as study subjects retaken tests similar to what they had previously taken. Similarly, brain scans revealed no differences between the groups that would suggest a brain benefit from training.

Lenze said the study findings don’t mean that exercise or mindfulness training doesn’t help improve cognitive function in any older adult, just that such practices don’t appear to improve cognitive performance in healthy, unimpaired people.

“We’re not saying, ‘Don’t exercise’ or ‘Don’t practice mindfulness,’” Lenze explained.

This shows older people exercising.
Older adults work with exercise trainers as part of a study to see if exercise, mindfulness training, or both could improve cognitive performance in older people. A new study showed no such improvements, although researchers continue to explore whether there may be any cognitive effects over a longer period of time. Credit: Washington University School of Medicine

“But we had thought that we might find a cognitive benefit in these older adults. we did not. On the other hand, we did not study whether exercise or mindfulness might benefit older adults who are impaired, due to dementia or disorders such as depression. I don’t think we can extrapolate from the data that these practices don’t help improve cognitive function in anyone.”

Lenze said the researchers plan to continue to follow the group of adults who participated in this study.

“They are still engaging in exercise and mindfulness,” she said. “We did not see improvements, but cognitive performance did not decrease either. In the next phase of the study, we will continue to follow the same people for five more years to find out if exercise and mindfulness training could help delay or prevent future cognitive declines.”

About this research news on aging and cognition

Author: jim dryden
Font: wustl
Contact: Jim Dryden–WUSTL
Image: Image is credited to WUSTL.

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original research: closed access.
Effects of mindfulness training and exercise on cognitive function in older adults: a randomized clinical trial” by Eric J. Lenze et al. NEVER


Effects of mindfulness training and exercise on cognitive function in older adults: a randomized clinical trial

Importance Episodic memory and executive function are essential aspects of cognitive functioning that decline with ageing. This decrease can be improved with lifestyle interventions.

Goal To determine whether mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), exercise, or a combination of both improve cognitive function in older adults.

Design, setting and participants This 2 × 2 factorial randomized clinical trial was conducted at 2 US sites (Washington University in St. Louis and University of California at San Diego). A total of 585 older adults (65-84 years) with subjective cognitive impairment but without dementia were randomized (enrollment November 19, 2015 through January 23, 2019; final follow-up March 16, 2020).

interventions Participants were randomized to undergo the following interventions: MBSR with a goal of 60 minutes of meditation daily (n = 150); exercise with aerobic, strength, and functional components with a goal of at least 300 minutes weekly (n = 138); Combined MBSR and exercise (n = 144); or a health education control group (n = 153). The interventions lasted 18 months and consisted of group classes and home practice.

Main results and measures The 2 primary outcomes were composite episodic memory and executive function (standardized to a mean [SD] from 0 [1]; higher composite scores indicate better cognitive performance) on neuropsychological tests; the primary end point was 6 months and the secondary end point was 18 months. There were 5 secondary outcomes reported: hippocampal volume and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex thickness and structural magnetic resonance imaging surface area and functional cognitive ability and self-reported cognitive concerns.

Results Among 585 randomized participants (mean age, 71.5 years; 424 [72.5%] women), 568 (97.1%) completed 6 months on the trial and 475 (81.2%) completed 18 months. At 6 months, there was no significant effect of mindfulness training or exercise on episodic memory (MBSR vs no MBSR: 0.44 vs 0.48; mean difference, -0.04 points [95% CI, –0.15 to 0.07]; P= .50; exercise vs no exercise: 0.49 vs 0.42; difference, 0.07 [95% CI, –0.04 to 0.17]; P= .23) or executive function (MBSR vs no MBSR: 0.39 vs 0.31; mean difference, 0.08 points [95% CI, –0.02 to 0.19]; P= .12; exercise vs no exercise: 0.39 vs 0.32; difference, 0.07 [95% CI, –0.03 to 0.18]; P= 0.17) and there were no effects of the intervention at the secondary end point of 18 months. There was no significant interaction between mindfulness training and exercise (P= .93 for memory and P= .29 for executive function) at 6 months. Of the 5 pre-specified secondary outcomes, none showed a significant improvement with any of the interventions compared to those who did not receive the intervention.

Conclusions and Relevance Among older adults with subjective cognitive concerns, mindfulness training, exercise, or both did not result in significant differences in improvement in episodic memory or executive function at 6 months. The findings do not support the use of these interventions to improve cognition in older adults with subjective cognitive concerns.

test record ClinicalTrials.gov identifier: NCT02665481

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