Dr. Cay Anderson-Hanley, Union College – Exercise and Cognitive Health

May 18, 2012

In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Cay Anderson-Hanley of Union College explores the benefits of adding a cognitive element to your exercise routine.

Cay Anderson-Hanley is an assistant professor of psychology at Union College in Schenectady, New York, where she teaches a number of courses in psychology and neuropsychology. She also maintains the Healthy Aging and Neuropsychology Lab where her research is focused on the cognitive benefits of exercise in aging populations.

About Dr. Anderson-Hanley

Dr. Cay Anderson-Hanley – Exercise and Cognitive Health

Baby boomers are retiring and longevity has increased around the world. The surging older adult population has heightened concern about the encroaching dementia epidemic. While cognitive decline is not a given of aging, 2 in 10 persons over the age of 80 will be diagnosed with dementia. In the next few of decades, cases will double to reach 100 million cases worldwide. Dementia of the Alzheimer’s type slowly robs a person of intellectual function and independence, leading to memory loss, safety concerns, and ultimately death. Psychiatric symptoms such as paranoia and combativeness are especially challenging. The toll on caregivers is extreme and the cost of providing safe and humane care is daunting.

Research shows that exercise may prevent or delay dementia and improve cognitive functioning in normal aging. Yet only 7 percent of those over age 75 report regular exercise. My exercise science colleague, Dr. Paul Arciero, and I conducted a clinical trial investigating the effects of exercise on a cybercycle, a virtual reality-enhanced stationary bike.

Sixty-three older adults completed 3 months of exercise; half rode a traditional stationary bike, and half rode a cybercycle next to competitive avatars along a virtual bike path, beside an ocean or through a forest.

We conducted neuropsychological evaluations of executive function which is important in multi-tasking and decision making. We found that cybercycling, yielded greater cognitive benefit than a similar dose of traditional exercise and reduced progression to mild cognitive impairment by 23%. Further research will be needed to tease apart the potent factors of cybercycling.

The implication of our recently published Cybercycle Study, is that older adults who choose “exergaming” where mental and physical exercise are interactive may garner added cognitive benefit, and perhaps prevent decline, all for the same effort of traditional exercise. This could make exercise more appealing to older adults and help stave off debilitating conditions such as dementia.