Exercise and mindfulness may not boost cognition in healthy older people

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In a study from Washington University in St. Louis, scientists found exercise and mindfulness do not boost cognition in healthy older people.

They examined the cognitive effects of exercise, mindfulness training, or both for up to 18 months in older adults.

These people reported age-related changes in memory but had not been diagnosed with any form of dementia.

Previous research found exercise is good for older adults, that it can lower the risk for cardiac problems, strengthen bones, improve mood, and have other beneficial effects—and there has been some thought that it also might improve cognitive function.

Likewise, mindfulness training is beneficial because it reduces stress, and stress can be bad for the brain.

In the study, the team wanted to see whether there may be some cognitive effects over a longer time period.

They examined healthy older adults to learn whether exercise and mindfulness might help prevent future cognitive declines.

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

The participants were randomly assigned to one of four groups: a group in which subjects worked with trained exercise instructors;

a group supervised by trained experts 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 memory tests and follow-up brain scans after six months and again after 18 months.

The team found at six months and again at 18 months, all of the groups looked similar.

All four groups performed slightly better in testing, but the researchers believe that was due to practice effects as study subjects retook tests similar to what they had taken previously.

Likewise, the brain scans revealed no differences between the groups that would suggest a brain benefit of the training.

The team says the study’s findings don’t mean exercise or mindfulness training won’t help improve cognitive function in any older adults, only that those practices don’t appear to boost cognitive performance in healthy people without impairments.

If you care about brain health, please read studies about how the Mediterranean diet could protect your brain health, and one dose of alcohol is enough to change the brain.

For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about antioxidants that could help reduce dementia risk, and common high blood pressure drugs linked to a higher risk of cognitive decline.

The study was conducted by Eric J. Lenze et al and published in JAMA.

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