A new Mayo Clinic study found that physical exercise and computer use may help protect against mild cognitive impairment , a disorder of the brain that affects nerve cells involved in thinking abilities. In previous studies, both physical exercise and cognitive activities (including computer use) were separately found to help reduce the risk of mild cognitive impairment. In this new study, the combination of these two activities appears to be even more beneficial. The study will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology Annual Meeting in Toronto on April 15.

Individuals with mild cognitive impairment can function reasonably well in everyday activities, but often have difficulty remembering critically important recent events and future engagements. Most (but not all) patients with mild cognitive impairment develop a progressive decline in their thinking abilities over time. Alzheimer's disease is usually the underlying cause.

"Our study found that engaging in physical exercise at any frequency, be it once a week or five times a week, and engaging in mental activities, computer use in particular, seem to have a joint effect in protecting against mild cognitive impairment. This means that when you add the benefit of physical exercise and the benefit of computer use together, the joint effect is more than the expected arithmetic sum," says Yonas Endale Geda, M.D., a Mayo Clinic neuropsychiatrist and the study's lead investigator.

As part of the ongoing Mayo Clinic Study of Aging, Dr. Geda and a team of Mayo Clinic researchers randomly identified 926 individuals aged 70 to 90 years. Of those, 109 had mild cognitive impairment and 817 were cognitively normal. The team conducted surveys to gather data on the individuals' physical exercise, cognitive activities and caloric intake in the past year.

After adjusting for age, sex, education, depression, other medical issues and caloric intake, they found that any frequency of moderate physical exercise (e.g., brisk walking) and any frequency of computer use were separately associated with a reduced risk of mild cognitive impairment. The beneficial joint effect of moderate physical exercise and computer use was greater than what would be predicted from their separate effects.

"This was a case-control study, so the next steps with this research are to study individuals who are cognitively normal at baseline and follow them prospectively to the event of new-onset mild cognitive impairment," says Dr. Geda. "We can then determine if these study findings will hold true, and if exercise and mental activities do have a joint impact in protecting a person against incident mild cognitive impairment."

Other members of the Mayo Clinic research team included Rosebud Roberts, M.B., Ch.B; David Knopman, M.D.; Teresa Christianson; V. Shane Pankratz, Ph.D.; Bradley Boeve, M.D.; Eric Tangalos, M.D.; Robert Ivnik, Ph.D.; Walter Rocca, M.D.; and Ronald Petersen, M.D., Ph.D.

Mayo Clinic

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