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Computer Use, Exercise May Save Memory

Study Shows Mental and Physical Exercise May Help Protect Against Memory Loss
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

April 19, 2010 (Toronto) -- A combination of moderate physical exercise and computer use late in life may help protect against the memory loss of mild cognitive impairment, a new study suggests.

The study shows that both physical exercise and mental exercises such as reading books, playing games, and computer use are associated with a lower risk of mild cognitive impairment; a combination of these activities appears to pack a one-two punch that is even more beneficial.

"Our study found that engaging in physical exercise at any frequency, once a week or five times a week, and engaging in mental activities, computer use in particular, appear to have a joint effect in protecting against mild cognitive impairment," says Yonas Geda, MD, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

Still, the study does not prove cause and effect, cautions Ron Peterson, MD, another Mayo Clinic researcher who worked on the study.

"It could be that people who engage in physical and mental exercise are less likely to show cognitive decline. Or maybe a person with cognitive decline is less likely to exercise and use computers," he tells WebMD.

The only way to know for sure is to follow people who engage in these activities and see if they have less mental decline over time -- a study that others are undertaking, Peterson says.

"Before you embark on such a study, you want to make sure there is a hint it will work, and that is what our study does," he says.

The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology.

Cutting Risk of Cognitive Impairment

The study involved 926 people, ages 70 to 90, participating in the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging. All completed questionnaires asking about physical exercise and cognitive activities during the past year; 817 participants were cognitively normal and 109 had mild cognitive impairment.

Those who were cognitively normal were younger, better educated, less likely to suffer from depression, and had fewer other medical conditions, Geda says.

The results showed that:

  • People who engaged in any amount of moderate exercise were 36% less likely to have mild cognitive impairment than people who did not exercise.
  • People who engaged in any amount of computer use were 44% less likely to have mild cognitive impairment that people who did not use the computer.

When the researchers took into account other risk factors for mild cognitive impairment, they found that "the beneficial joint effect of moderate physical exercise and computer use was more than what would be predicted from the arithmetic sum of the two," Geda says.

The researchers did not distinguish between different types of computer use.

The findings support other research showing that both physical and mental exercises are good for the brain, says Julie Schneider, MD, of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, who moderated the session at which the study was presented.

What is new here, she says, is the suggestion that both activities are better than either alone.

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