More findings from the long-running Mayo Clinic Study of Aging reveal that using a computer plus taking moderate exercise reduces your risk of mild cognitive impairment significantly more than you would expect from simply adding together these two beneficial activities.
The study involved 926 older adults (70-93), of whom 109 (12%) were diagnosed with MCI. Participants completed questionnaires on physical exercise and mental stimulation within the previous year. Computer use was targeted in this analysis because of its popularity as a cognitive activity, and because it was particularly associated with reduced odds of having MCI.
Among the cognitively healthy, only 20.1% neither exercised moderately nor used a computer, compared to 37.6% of those with MCI. On the other hand, 36% of the cognitively healthy both exercised and used a computer, compared to only 18.3% of those with MCI. There was little difference between the two groups as regards exercise but no computer use, or computer use but no exercise.
The analysis took into account calorie intake, as well as education, depression, and other health factors. Daily calorie intake was significantly higher in those with MCI compared to those without (respective group medians of 2100 calories vs 1802) — note that the median BMI was the same for the two groups.
Moderate physical exercise was defined as brisk walking, hiking, aerobics, strength training, golfing without a golf cart, swimming, doubles tennis, yoga, martial arts, using exercise machines and weightlifting. Light exercise included activities such as bowling, leisurely walking, stretching, slow dancing, and golfing with a cart. Mentally stimulating activities included reading, crafts, computer use, playing games, playing music, group and social and artistic activities and watching less television.
It should be noted that the assessment of computer activities was very basic. The researchers suggest that in future studies, both duration and frequency should be assessed. I would add type of activity, although that would be a little more difficult to assess.
Overall, the findings add yet more weight to the evidence for the value of physical exercise and mental stimulation in staving off cognitive impairment in old age, and add the twist that doing both is much better than doing either one alone.
 . Computer Activities, Physical Exercise, Aging, and Mild Cognitive Impairment: A Population-Based Study. Mayo Clinic Proceedings [Internet]. 2012 ;87(5):437 - 442. Available from: http://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(12)00304-7/abstract