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.