Healthy Memory: Physical versus Cognitive Activity

Many articles on maintaining brain health and cognitive competence advocate the benefits of physical activity. This point is indisputable. Physical activity is good for the brain. However, cognitive activity is mentioned only rarely in this context, even though there is ample evidence that cognitive activity benefits both brain health and cognitive competence.

A study1 compared the benefits of mental and physical activity in older women over a period of six months. Two hundred and fifty-nine women aged 70 to 93 years were randomly assigned to one of three groups: a computer course, an exercise course, or a control group (for comparison purposes). Both the computer group and the exercise group showed improved delay story recall compared to the control group. They maintained performance in delayed word recall and working memory as opposed to the control group, which showed a decline over the 6 month period.

The authors concluded the following: “ 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.”

An obvious question here is whether physical activities combined with cognitive activities would produce additive effects. I know of no study that has assessed the effects of both activities together. If anyone does know of such a study, please leave a comment. Nevertheless, a good argument could be made for engaging in both activities. Physical activities can maintain and build the body, and mental activities can maintain and expand the mind.

1Klusman, V., Evers, A., Schwarzer, R., Reishies, F., M., Heuser, I., &Dimeo, F.C. (2010). Complex mental and physical activity in older women and cognitive performance: a 6-month randomized and controlled trial.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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