The combination of mentally stimulating activities such as computer use and moderate physical exercise appears to decrease one's odds of suffering from age-related memory loss, according to a new Mayo Clinic study.
The researchers say their findings among a self-reporting cohort of 926 people ages 70 to 93 are just preliminary, but that the numbers are significant enough to warrant further investigation.
Previous studies have shown links between exercising one's mind and exercising one's body to improved memory, but this one, published in the May 2012 issue of the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, suggests that a combination of the two may be most effective.
The study participants filled out questionnaires on physical exercise and computer use for the year leading up to their interview with Mayo Clinic researchers.
Mentally stimulating activities were defined to include computer use, reading, playing games, playing music, and watching less television; moderate physical exercise was defined to include hiking, golfing (without a golf cart), brisk walking, aerobics, swimming, yoga, martial arts, and weightlifting. Lead author Dr. Yonas Geda reports that the team singled out computer use because it was such a popular activity, and examined it alongside exercise.
Of the participants who neither used a computer nor exercised, 20.1 percent appeared cognitively normal, while almost twice as many, 37.6 percent, showed mild cognitive impairment.
Conversely, of those who both used a computer and exercised, the numbers reversed, with 36 percent appearing cognitively normal and about half, 18.3 percent, showing mild cognitive impairment.
Unfortunately, the researchers did not take into account type or amount of computer use, and did not establish a causal link between computer use and reduced risk of memory less. Still, they hope their preliminary findings will spur more research.