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Feb 262012



“Enhancing Cognitive Fitness In Adults A Guide to the Use and Development of Community-Based Programs” (Editors Paula E. Hartman-Stein and Asenath La Rue, 2011) presents a cornucopia of information in the 499 page book. This author was able to obtain the book through interlibrary loan.

The book is divided into 5 Parts. Part I presents “Research Foundations for Cognitive Wellness Interventions”. Part II consists of “Community-Based Programs to Enhance and Sustain Healthy Aging”. Part III is named “Enhancing Cognition Through Arts”. Part IV is titled “Cognitive Wellness Interventions for Adults with Memory Impairment”. And Part V is “Gaining Through Giving Back : Programs with a Positive Societal Impact”.  

“Part I Research Foundations for Cognitive Wellness Interventions starts out with “Memory Enhancement Strategies…” and “Mental and Physical Exercise as a Means to Reverse Cognitive Aging and Enhance Well-Being”. On page 39 (in the second chapter, “Mental and Physical Exercise as a Means to Reverse Cognitive Aging and Enhance Well-Being”)  the Authors, W. R. Boot and D.P. Blakely wrote : “There is ample evidence to suggest that exercise can improve various cognitive abilities in older adults, including executive control, inhibition, selective attention, processing speed, and spatial abilities…” And on Page 40 in the same chapter the authors wrote : “Given the current evidence, the best practical recommendations that can be made for confronting cognitive decline in older adults are as follows :

Physical Exercise. Demonstrated to promote brain structure and function.

*  Considerations:

     *  Aerobic exercise produces maximum benefit

     *  Even moderate levels of exercise are effective (walking 3 miles a week for 40 min each time)

     *  Initial physical fitness and health status must be considered before an exercise program is implemented

Cognitive Engagement. Promising data indicate potential cognitive benefits

*   Considerations

     *  Complex, multimodal activities produce maximum benefit

     *  Evidence suggests promise of complex video game training

     *  Cognitive activity must be engaging enough to maintain interest and enhance compliance

…Future research must elaborate on the nature, duration, and relative effectiveness and efficiency of different approaches.”

However, as the authors pointed out in the same chapter on page 35 but did not include in the practical recommendations above : “Interventions that combined aerobic training and strength training produced greater improvement compared to aerobic fitness training alone. Exercise sessions of less than 30 min had little effect on cognition.” (Italics and letter boldness were added by this author.)

In the “Monitor on Psychology” article, “What works to protect cognition (https://www.apa.org/monitor/2010/11/cognition.aspx; obtained on 2-124-12)

Lifestyle interventions show promise, but the research remains inconclusive” (by Amy Novotney, November 2010, Vol 41, No. 10, Print version: page 36), here is an excerpt from the article that supports use of physical exercise as well as mental stimulation, stress reduction, and skills training to maintain cognitive fitness : 

“Over the past 20 years, psychologists have identified several modifiable lifestyle interventions to prevent dementia. Those that show the most promise in keeping the mind sharp include physical exercise, mental stimulation, stress reduction and real-life skills training, says clinical neuropsychologist Paul David Nussbaum, PhD, professor of neurological surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Nussbaum points to several suggestive studies examining these lifestyle effects on the brain:

  • Exercise: A study in the January Archives of Neurology (Vol. 67, No. 1), led by Laura Baker, PhD, a clinical neuropsychologist at the University of Washington, found that older adults with mild cognitive impairment showed significant improvements on tests of executive function after six months of four-day-a-week aerobic exercise.
  • Stress reduction: In a 2007 study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Vol. 104, No. 25), researchers led by neurologist David Holtzman, MD, at Washington University in St. Louis reported that short-term stress leads to an increase in the amount of beta-amyloid protein — a key component in the development of Alzheimer’s — in the brains of mice.
  • Mental stimulation: A 2006 meta-analysis conducted by a group of Spanish scientists and published in Neuroepidemiology (Vol. 26, No. 4), links fewer years of education to a greater risk of Alzheimer’s disease. ‘It seems that the more complex and novel the environment, the more likely the benefit to the brain,’ Nussbaum says.

Yet some researchers say there’s still a lack of controlled research offering clear cause-and-effect conclusions that these interventions improve brain function. In April, the National Institutes of Health convened a ‘State-of-the-Science Conference: Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease and Cognitive Decline,’ in which an independent panel of experts concluded that there is not enough evidence to support that any particular modifiable factor reduces the risk of dementia.”

The reader may choose to note that aerobic training does seem to be emphasized over strength training in spite of at least some identified research showing that combined aerobic training and strength training does produce greater improvement compared to aerobic fitness training alone. One possible explanation for this emphasis may be that aerobic exercises may be relatively physically easier to do than strength training exercises especially for individuals (older adults) who are at greater risk for and/or have experienced cognitive decline.  

The Hygiology Post welcomes feedback from readers as to whether the articles (individually and/or collectively) help fulfill its vision and mission.


Louis DeCola, Jr.                                    © 2012 The Hygiology Post