02 May 2012

(Credit: istockphoto)
(Credit: istockphoto)

A recent study has shown that among older adults, participants who used a computer and did moderate physical activity such as brisk walking were 64% less likely to have mild cognitive impairment (MCI). 

Many worry about how much memory their computer has to run the latest program, this new study shows that using your computer (and exercising) may help your own memory in the long run, avoiding MCI. 

Mild cognitive impairment or MCI is a condition where people experience a decline in their cognitive function, including memory and language but can still perform day-to-day activities.

In this study computer use and physical activity reduced the risk of memory loss, but just doing one activity or the other alone did not.

According to the study's researcher Dr. Yonas Geda, a physician scientist with Mayo Clinic in Arizona, "The aging of baby boomers is projected to lead to dramatic increases in the prevalence of dementia.  As frequent computer use has becoming increasingly common among all age groups, it is important to examine how it relates to aging and dementia."

One possible issue with the study is that it relied on participants to remember how often they had exercised or used a computer within the past year.  More studies will be needed to track the progress of people forward in time to confirm these findings.

Previous Links Between Computers and Exercise

Previous studies have found a link between exercise and a reduced risk of MCI, while other studies linked stimulating activities such as reading books or using a computer with the reduced risk of MCI.  Until now no studies showed the combined effects of exercise and computer use.

Study Parameters and Findings

Geda and his team surveyed 926 people ages 70 to 93 living in Olmsted County, Minnesota.  Participants were asked if they had engaged in moderate physical activity such as brisk walking, aerobics, hiking, strength training, yoga or weight lifting in the past year and how frequently they performed the activities.  They were also asked about computer use.  Then participants were examined by a physician to diagnose MCI.

Among those that did not exercise or use a computer:  20.1% were cognitively normal, 37.6% had signs of MCI.

Those who did exercise or use a computer 36% were cognitively normal and 18.3% showed signs of MCI.

As a result the study showed that people who either used a computer or exercised showed some protection against mild cognitive impairment, compared to those who did neither.  The study did mention that these results could have been due to chance, however.

The results stayed the same even after the researchers took into account things such as age, sex, depression, education level and the number of calories they ate per day. 

The study is published in the 2012 May issue of the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

The Tech-Stew Take Home

The study speculates that those who do both physical activity and computer use may be generally healthier as a rule.  But it's possible the brain may benefit from such activities directly.  Exercise alone may increase the survival rate of nerve cells in the brain, while computer use or other stimulating activity may help solidify connections in the brain, possibly resulting in less damage.

The researchers have stated they will need to do more studies to determine if the results of this study, which are only in one county, can be generalized.

This study did not indicate how long the participants spent on the computer overall or what they were doing on the computer.  The researchers admit this is one area that needs to be clarified.

It would seem that the study group involved in the test may have just been the right combination of people to produce the results which it did.  Either way more studies will need to be done to confirm these results, though as stated, it does seem logical that such combinations of activities with exercise would result in less cognitive impairment over time, especially considering previous studies have shown that each activity alone can help.

Source:  time.com


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