Open Access Study protocol

Study protocol: a randomised controlled trial of the effects of a multi-modal exercise program on cognition and physical functioning in older women

Sue Vaughan1*, Norm Morris1, David Shum2, Siobhan O’Dwyer3 and Denise Polit3

Author affiliations

1 School of Physiotherapy and Exercise Science, Griffith University, Gold Coast, QLD, 4222, Australia

2 School of Applied Psychology and Behavioural Basis of Health Program, Griffith Health Institute, Griffith University, Gold Coast, QLD, 4222, Australia

3 Griffith Health Institute, Research Centre for Clinical and Community Practice Innovation, Griffith University, Gold Coast, QLD, 4222, Australia

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Citation and License

BMC Geriatrics 2012, 12:60  doi:10.1186/1471-2318-12-60

Published: 26 September 2012



Intervention studies testing the efficacy of cardiorespiratory exercise have shown some promise in terms of improving cognitive function in later life. Recent developments suggest that a multi-modal exercise intervention that includes motor as well as physical training and requires sustained attention and concentration, may better elicit the actual potency of exercise to enhance cognitive performance. This study will test the effect of a multi-modal exercise program, for older women, on cognitive and physical functioning.


This randomised controlled trial involves community dwelling women, without cognitive impairment, aged 65–75 years. Participants are randomised to exercise intervention or non-exercise control groups, for 16 weeks. The intervention consists of twice weekly, 60 minute, exercise classes incorporating aerobic, strength, balance, flexibility, co-ordination and agility training. Primary outcomes are measures of cognitive function and secondary outcomes include physical functioning and a neurocognitive biomarker (brain derived neurotrophic factor). Measures are taken at baseline and 16 weeks later and qualitative data related to the experience and acceptability of the program are collected from a sub-sample of the intervention group.


If this randomised controlled trial demonstrates that multimodal exercise (that includes motor fitness training) can improve cognitive performance in later life, the benefits will be two-fold. First, an inexpensive, effective strategy will have been developed that could ameliorate the increased prevalence of age-related cognitive impairment predicted to accompany population ageing. Second, more robust evidence will have been provided about the mechanisms that link exercise to cognitive improvement allowing future research to be better focused and potentially more productive.

Trial registration

Australian and New Zealand Clinical Trial Registration Number: ANZCTR12612000451808

Exercise; Cognition; Aged; Multi-modal exercise; Brain derived neurotrophic factor