Minds in mo­tion


LON­DON— Get­ting grandpa on a tread­mill isn’t go­ing to cut it.

There’s more to de­men­tia-pre­ven­tion than just pure ex­er­cise, new Western Univer­sity re­search sug­gests.

The key to staving off the de­gen­er­a­tive con­di­tion, which af­fects more than a half mil­lion peo­ple in Canada, might just be ac­tiv­i­ties that com­bine both the mind and move­ment.

Wood­stock se­niors who com­pleted a 15-minute chore­ographed step ex­er­cise af­ter their reg­u­lar workout showed im­prove­ments in their mem­ory and cog­ni­tion — not just at the end of the study, but six months later.

“We saw a very strong trend. We saw that they did well in all of the tests we ap­plied,” said Nar­lon Boa Sorta Silva, a ki­ne­si­ol­ogy PhD can­di­date and study au­thor.

The re­port, pre­sented at an in­ter­na­tional Alzheimer’s con­fer­ence in Lon­don, Eng­land, fol­lowed 127 Wood­stock-area se­niors as they com­pleted a work- out regime three times a week for six months. Half did 45 min­utes of strength and aer­o­bic ex­er­cise alone, fol­lowed by 15 min­utes of stretch­ing.

The rest com­pleted the same fit­ness rou­tine, but ended their workout with mind-mo­tor train­ing in­stead, a step pat­tern ac­tiv­ity on a grid­ded floor mat.

The se­niors watched the steps, then tried to mimic them as they got pro­gres­sively more com­pli­cated.

“The in­ter­ven­tion is quite novel, it’s unique and it does make a change. And those changes are long-term,” said Dr. Robert Pe­trella, a Western fam­ily medicine and ki­ne­si­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor who over­saw the study.

“We chal­lenged the brain and the way it func­tions.”

With im­pres­sive re­sults. By the end of the year-long study, the two re­searchers found se­niors who com­pleted the dance-like step puz­zle had bet­ter mem­ory and cog­ni­tive func­tion than those who didn’t. They were also more so­cial, in­ter­act­ing and en­cour­ag­ing other par­tic­i­pants.

It’s no sur­prise to Ella Brodie of Lon­don. The life­long dancer, still go­ing strong at 81, said the fancy foot­work and mem­o­rized moves keep her brain sharp.

“I love the ex­er­cise. You have to keep think­ing,” she said at a se­niors’ line dance class.

Class­mate Bob McFar­lane, who’s been danc­ing for 15 years, said he couldn’t agree more.

“It’s fun. It’s good phys­i­cal ex­er­cise, it’s good men­tal ex­er­cise and you meet a lot of nice peo­ple,” said the 75 year old.

“Every day, there’s a new dance.”

Pe­trella said the mind-mo­tor ex­er­cises tap into an area of the brain that’s not al­ways ac­cessed by work­outs or cross­words alone.

“It’s a way of reach­ing the part of the brain that has a co­ex­is­tence of mem­ory and cog­ni­tive func­tion­ing with mo­bil­ity. The two go very hand in hand in a very spe­cific part of the brain,” said Pe­trella.

“The spillover ef­fect will be some im­prove­ments in cog­ni­tion, but also some im­prove­ments in mo­bil­ity, as well.”

Boa Sorta Silva said mind-mo­tor ex­er­cises could help se­niors hone their co-or­di­na­tion and mus­cle mem­ory, im­por­tant skills that may help them avoid po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous falls.

“The link be­tween cog­ni­tive func­tion and mo­bil­ity is very strong and in most cases, the rea­son why those peo­ple fall is be­cause they’re hav­ing a cog­ni­tive is­sue,” he said.

Both re­searchers want to ex­pand their study to a larger au­di­ence and to se­niors with more pro­nounced cog­ni­tive de­cline.

They’d also like to see whether ratch­et­ing up the ex­er­cise and mind-mo­tor train­ing could have more brain-boost­ing ef­fects.

“We think that if we can drive the in­ter­ven­tion more in­tensely . . . maybe that would make a big­ger dif­fer­ence,” said Pe­trella. Lon­don Free Press


Bob McFar­lane, 75, takes part in a line danc­ing class at Lon­don’s Car­ling Heights Op­ti­mist Com­mu­nity Cen­tre. McFar­lane says he loves the pro­gram be­cause it is good phys­i­cal and men­tal ex­er­cise.

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