Physical activity linked to better memory for names and faces among older adults

  • A small study adds to evidence that walking improves memory in older adults, and indicates that this is particularly helpful for memory tasks the seniors find challenging.

A small study that fitted 29 young adults (18-31) and 31 older adults (55-82) with a device that recorded steps taken and the vigor and speed with which they were made, has found that those older adults with a higher step rate performed better on memory tasks than those who were more sedentary. There was no such effect seen among the younger adults.

Improved memory was found for both visual and episodic memory, and was strongest with the episodic memory task. This required recalling which name went with a person's face — an everyday task that older adults often have difficulty with.

However, the effect on visual memory had more to do with time spent sedentary than step rate. With the face-name task, both time spent sedentary and step rate were significant factors, and both factors had a greater effect than they had on visual memory.

Depression and hypertension were both adjusted for in the analysis.

There was no significant difference in executive function related to physical activity, although previous studies have found an effect. Less surprisingly, there was also no significant effect on verbal memory.

Both findings might be explained in terms of cognitive demand. The evidence suggests that the effect of physical exercise is only seen when the task is sufficiently cognitively demanding. No surprise that verbal memory (which tends to be much less affected by age) didn't meet that challenge, but interestingly, the older adults in this study were also less impaired on executive function than on visual memory. This is unusual, and reminds us that, especially with small studies, you cannot ignore the individual differences.

This general principle may also account for the lack of effect among younger adults. It is interesting to speculate whether physical activity effects would be found if the younger adults were given much more challenging tasks (either by increasing their difficulty, or selecting a group who were less capable).

Step Rate was calculated by total steps taken divided by the total minutes in light, moderate, and vigorous activities, based on the notion that this would provide an independent indicator of physical activity intensity (how briskly one is walking). Sedentary Time was the total minutes spent sedentary.

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-11/bumc-slp112415.php

Reference: 

[4045] Hayes, S. M., Alosco M. L., Hayes J. P., Cadden M., Peterson K. M., Allsup K., et al.
(2015).  Physical Activity Is Positively Associated with Episodic Memory in Aging.
Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society. 21(Special Issue 10), 780 - 790.

Related News

A small study comparing 38 younger adults (average age 22) and 39 older adults (average age 68) found that the older adults were less able to recognize when they made errors.

Can computer use, crafts and games slow or prevent age-related memory loss?

Americans with a college education live longer without dementia and Alzheimer's

Socially active 60-year-olds face lower dementia risk

Stressors in middle age linked to cognitive decline in older women

Data from some 900 older adults has linked stressful life experiences among middle-aged women, but not men, to greater memory decline in later life.

A study involving more than 2,500 older adults (65+) found that the rate of worsening vision was associated with the rate of cognitive decline. More importantly, vision has a stronger influence on cognition than the reverse.

Hearing loss linked to increased dementia risk

Chronic insomnia linked to memory problems

Link found between chronic inflammation and Alzheimer's gene risk

Brain scans of 9,772 people aged 44 to 79, who were enrolled in the UK Biobank study, have revealed that smoking, high blood pressure, high pulse pressure, diabetes, and high BMI — but not high cholesterol — were all linked to greater brain shrinkage, less

Pages

Subscribe to Latest newsSubscribe to Latest newsSubscribe to Latest health newsSubscribe to Latest news