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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Effects of simultaneously performed cognitive and physical training in older adults

Nathan Theill12*, Vera Schumacher123, Rolf Adelsberger4, Mike Martin12 and Lutz Jäncke256

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Gerontopsychology, Department of Psychology, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland

2 International Normal Aging and Plasticity Imaging Center (INAPIC), University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland

3 Department of Social Work, Zurich University of Applied Sciences, Zurich, Switzerland

4 Department of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering, Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), Zurich, Switzerland

5 Division of Neuropsychology, Department of Psychology, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland

6 University Research Priority Program “Dynamics of Healthy Aging”, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland

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BMC Neuroscience 2013, 14:103  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-14-103

Published: 23 September 2013

Abstract

Background

While many studies confirm the positive effect of cognitive and physical training on cognitive performance of older adults, only little is known about the effects of simultaneously performed cognitive and physical training. In the current study, older adults simultaneously performed a verbal working memory and a cardiovascular training to improve cognitive and motor-cognitive dual task performance. Twenty training sessions of 30 minutes each were conducted over a period of ten weeks, with a test session before, in the middle, and after the training. Training gains were tested in measures of selective attention, paired-associates learning, executive control, reasoning, memory span, information processing speed, and motor-cognitive dual task performance in the form of walking and simultaneously performing a working memory task.

Results

Sixty-three participants with a mean age of 71.8 ± 4.9 years (range 65 to 84) either performed the simultaneous training (N = 21), performed a single working memory training (N = 16), or attended no training at all (N = 26). The results indicate similar training progress and larger improvements in the executive control task for both training groups when compared to the passive control group. In addition, the simultaneous training resulted in larger improvements compared to the single cognitive training in the paired-associates task and was able to reduce the step-to-step variability during the motor-cognitive dual task when compared to the single cognitive training and the passive control group.

Conclusions

The simultaneous training of cognitive and physical abilities presents a promising training concept to improve cognitive and motor-cognitive dual task performance, offering greater potential on daily life functioning, which usually involves the recruitment of multiple abilities and resources rather than a single one.

Keywords:
Cognitive training; Physical training; Simultaneous training; Motor-cognitive dual task training; Working memory; Brain plasticity