Intensity of activities doesn't determine level of benefits for seniors, researchers say

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Mental and physical stimulation improves seniors' memory and thinking skill, regardless of how rigorous the activities are, according to a recently published study.

Researchers at the University of California-San Francisco divided 126 study participants into four groups. The average age of the participants was 73, and all said they had experienced some decline in their memory or thinking skills. For three months, the groups engaged in one hour of mental stimulation and one hour of physical activity three days a week.

Some of the groups did more rigorous activities, such as playing cognitively challenging video games and aerobics, while others performed less strenuous activities, such as watching educational DVDs and stretching. However, all participants demonstrated similar improvements in thinking and memory at the end of the study, the researchers found.

The research affirms prior studies showing the beneficial effects of exercise and mentally stimulating activities, and suggests that engaging in these activities is more important than the specific nature of the activities. It also supports the idea that performing physical and mental exercises together creates added benefits.

“Physical or mental activity alone result in small, domain-specific improvements in cognitive function in older adults; combined interventions may have more global effects,” the researchers wrote.

The study appears in the April 1 edition of JAMA Internal Medicine.