3 Simple Activities That Can Enhance Cognitive Function in Older Adults

Human Brain Boost Healing Concept

A recent study shows that an 18-hole golf round or 6 km of walking can boost immediate cognitive function in older adults, with Nordic and regular walking improving executive functions.

Playing a single 18-hole round of golf or completing 6 km of either Nordic walking or regular walking can significantly improve immediate cognitive function in older adults, according to a recent study published in BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine.

An international research team, comprising members from the University of Eastern Finland, the University of Edinburgh, and ETH Zürich, sought to uncover the immediate effects of three specific cognitively demanding aerobic activities on cognition and associated biological responses in older, healthy participants.

Study Design and Methodology

The study involved 25 healthy older golfers, aged 65 and above, who participated in three different acute bouts of aerobic exercise: an 18-hole golf round, a 6 km Nordic walking session, and a 6 km regular walking session. Each exercise was conducted in a real-life environment, with participants maintaining their typical pace, corresponding to brisk walking.

Cognitive function was assessed using the Trail-Making Test (TMT) A and B, a widely used tool for evaluating cognitive function in older adults. The TMT-A test measures lower cognitive functions, such as attention and processing speed, while the TMT-B test measures more demanding executive functions such as task-switching ability. Additionally, blood samples were collected to measure brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and cathepsin B (CTSB) levels.

Both have been suggested to reflect the benefits of exercise in the brain. Participants also wore fitness monitoring devices to record exercise-specific data like distance, duration, pace, energy expenditure, and steps. An ECG sensor with a chest strap was used to monitor heart rate.

Study Findings

The study showed that a single session of any of the three exercises —18 holes of golf, 6 km of Nordic walking, or 6 km of regular walking— improved lower cognitive functions measured with the TMT-A test in older adults, although no significant effects were seen on the levels of BDNF and CTSB. Furthermore, Nordic walking and regular walking were associated with enhanced executive functions measured with the TMT-B test.

Previous research has indicated the potential cognitive benefits of acute bouts of aerobic exercise, with factors like exercise intensity, duration, and type influencing the extent of improvement.

“These findings underscore the value of age-appropriate aerobic exercise, such as golf, Nordic walking, and regular walking, in maintaining and enhancing cognitive function among older adults. Previous research has shown that exercise also holds promise as a potential strategy for those experiencing cognitive decline,” says Julia Kettinen, the first author of the article and a Doctoral Researcher in Sports and Exercise Medicine at the Institute of Biomedicine, University of Eastern Finland.

Reference: “Cognitive and biomarker responses in healthy older adults to a 18-hole golf round and different walking types: a randomised cross-over study” by Julia Kettinen, Heikki Tikkanen, Mikko Hiltunen, Andrew Murray, Nils Horn, William R Taylor and Mika Venojärvi, 1 October 2023, BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine.
DOI: 10.1136/bmjsem-2023-001629

2 Comments on "3 Simple Activities That Can Enhance Cognitive Function in Older Adults"

  1. Info ver useful can you please assist with more I suffered strok from June 2022 that affected left arm and left hand still not functioning but leg improved can you assist

  2. Information missing from the reporting on this study is if there were any controls on how the golf was played. Specifically, did it make a difference if the golfers used a golf cart or not. If this was not reported in the findings, that should be noted. The benefits of golf could be simply an extension of the benefits of walking. If the method of golf play wasn’t noted by the researchers, then the data on golf is nearly useless. Golfers who use golf carts do not have information about whether there is any cognitive benefit to their game, while golfers who walk already know that walking improves cognition from the other part of the study. To get meaningful results the study should report on whether golfers used golf carts or walked from hole to hole. One is also curious who funded the study, and that should be included in reporting of studies as well. Would like to see more critical thinking from science reporting outlets.

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