Study to Explore Possible Synergistic Effects of Exercise, Brain Training in Preventing Dementia

Oct. 11, 2017
senior adults on exercise bikes

Can a workout regimen for your mind and body help to fend off Alzheimer’s disease?

Physical and mental activity have been shown to boost brain function in different ways, but a new study will look to see if the benefits of engaging in a rigorously designed program that includes both aerobic exercise and brain training will complement each other, producing greater gains in cognition than if both activities had been done independently.

Feng Vankee Lin, Ph.D., R.N., assistant professor in the University of Rochester School of Nursing, the Departments of Neuroscience, Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Neurology, and Psychiatry, and director of the Cog-T Laboratory promoting successful aging, and Fang Yu, Ph.D., R.N., G.N.P.-B.C., F.G.S.A., F.A.A.N., associate professor at the University of Minnesota School of Nursing, are principal investigators on the five-year, $3.67 million grant from the National Institute of Aging.

“This is the first trial to test the synergistic effects of a combined program of aerobic exercise and cognitive training on cognition and mechanisms relevant to Alzheimer’s disease-associated neurodegeneration in older adults with mild cognitive impairment,” said Lin.

The study will test the efficacy of a specially designed six-month program - which includes cycling and a speed-of-processing training intervention – on cognition and associated neural and vascular mechanisms in older adults with mild cognitive impairment. Researchers hope to quantify any added effects resulting from the combined activities to help inform future studies with an eye toward ultimately delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s or slowing its progression.

Aerobic exercise and cognitive training are promising non-pharmacological interventions with potential to inhibit Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia in high-risk populations. Aerobic exercise leads to increased aerobic fitness, which helps to improve brain structure and function, said Lin, while cognitive training – commonly in the form of “brain games” – improves selective neural function intensity.

“Combined aerobic exercise and cognitive training may very well have an additive or synergistic effect on cognition by complementary strengthening of these different neural functions,” said Lin.

Anton Porsteinsson, M.D., the William B and Sheila Konar Endowed Professor of Psychiatry, and Krupa Shah, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of medicine in geriatrics, are co-investigators on the study.