The latest word on protecting against memory loss as you get older comes from a Mayo Clinic study that identifies computer use plus moderate physical exercise as a winning combination. Researchers assembled a group of 926 seniors ages 70 to 93 and asked them to complete questionnaires about their exercise habits. Activities identified included brisk walking, hiking, aerobics, strength training, golfing (without a golf cart) swimming, doubles tennis, yoga, martial arts, using exercise machines and weightlifting. They were also asked about their mental activities including computer use, reading, playing games, social and artistic activities and time spent watching television. Computer use proved so popular that the researchers looked at how combining it with exercise influenced memory. They found that of the participants who didn’t use a computer or exercise, 20.1 percent were cognitively normal and 37.6 percent showed signs of mild cognitive impairment, the stage between normal memory loss due to aging and early Alzheimer’s. Of those who exercised and used computers, 36 percent were cognitively normal and only 18.3 percent showed signs of mild cognitive impairment.
My take? This isn’t surprising, but it does add to the accumulating scientific evidence suggesting that mental stimulation and physical exercise help keep your mind sharp and your memory from slipping. A study at the University of Pittsburgh found that brain volume increased in areas associated with memory in seniors who took 40-minute walks three days a week for one year. In addition to computer use, proven protective strategies include keeping your mind active by reading newspapers and books, doing word puzzles, playing card games or musical instruments, participating in ongoing education, and learning a new language.