Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Computer use and physical exercise may reduce risk of memory loss

Crack open a book and hop on a stationary bike to ward off memory loss.

The combination of moderate physical exercise and computer use may help reduce the risk of mild cognitive impairment later in life, Mayo Clinic researchers found.

Individually, the effects of moderate exercise and computer use prove to significantly reduce the risk of mild cognitive impairment, according to the study.

But Yonas Geda, a neuropsychiatrist at the Mayo Clinic, said, “The combined effects are better than the arithmetic sum of the individual effects.”

Mild cognitive impairment is the intermediate stage between normal cognitive aging and dementia, he said. He gave the example of people losing their keys on occasion, which would be considered a normal occurrence. Forgetting about a flight or another important event, however, may be signs of mild cognitive impairment and early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, he said.

Normal cognitive aging involves the brain function to remain intact, while a decrease in processing speed in the brain occurs, said Dr. Diana Kerwin in the Division of Geriatrics at Northwestern University. In the absence of cognitive diseases, it is expected that people take longer to do their taxes or balance their checkbooks, she said.

People in the study who engaged in any amount of moderate exercise were 36 percent less likely to have mild cognitive impairment than people who did not exercise.

Those who participated in any amount of computer use were 44 percent less likely to have mild cognitive impairment than people who did not use the computer.

The joint effect of moderate exercise and computer use causes “synergistic interaction,” explains Geda, which is greater than if each exercise were performed independently.

“Exercise can help delay or prevent the onset of cognitive decline,” said Kerwin, who also is affiliated with the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disorder Center in the Neurobehavioral Clinic at Northwestern University. Exercise can also maintain healthy blood vessels and glucose levels and lower blood pressure, she said.

The 926 participants, ages 70 to 90, were evaluated in a case-control study, which meant a cause-and-effect relationship could not be drawn from the data, Geda said.

Since there is not a cause-and-effect relationship, there is a possibility that people who engage in physical and mental exercise are less likely to show memory loss or that a person with memory loss is less likely to perform mental and physical activities.

“We know as far as successful aging, one of the best activities is to remain engaged,” Kerwin said, whether it be social, cognitive, physical exercise, or a combination.

Geda recommended craft activities, such as knitting and quilting, social activities and any other moderate physical exercise to reduce the risk of mild cognitive impairment.

Kerwin suggested that people participate in activities that are cognitively challenging, but also activities that they are interested in. “If people enjoy the activity, it increases the likelihood that they’ll do it,” she said.

Barbara Wijnicki, a 73-year-old Chicago resident, keeps active by taking yoga and dance classes, walking regularly and reading books.

“I always have a book to read and I think it may be helping me with my mental capactity,” she said. “I believe that just being active and being with other people is good for the brain and the mental part.”

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