It is well known that physical fitness training can improve cognitive abilities. A small study surprisingly suggests that it may work both ways: Cognitive training may improve seniors’ physical fitness, more specifically their walking-while-talking speed. Poor gait speed (i.e., walking speed) is correlated with a higher probability of falls as well as with cognitive impairment. This study shows thus a promising example of how the benefits of cognitive training can transfer to a crucial everyday-life activity .
Twenty seniors, aged 70 or older participated in the study. Ten of the seniors participated in a computerized brain fitness program (MindFit, by CogniFit) three times weekly (45–60 min. each time) for eight weeks. The training program included a mixture of 21 visual, auditory, and cross-modality tasks aimed at training mostly attention and executive functions (planning, decision-making, inhibition). The other 10 seniors constituted the control group.
Compared with the control group, the 10 seniors in the brain training group improved very slightly in their normal walking speed and improved significantly in their walking-while-talking speed.
Comments: The results of this small study are exciting for two reasons:
1) Cognitive training was shown to transfer to an untrained activity very different from the trained one (from visual and auditory tasks to mobility). How was this possible? Cognitive training targeting attention and executive functions was expected to affect walking speed because it is known that impairments in attention and executive functions are associated with slow gait in older adults. The success of the intervention was higher on the walking-while-talking speed probably because it is more attention-demanding to do 2 things at the same time than just one.
2) There is now hope that cognitive training can affect a crucial factor in later life: mobility. Such a low-risk and accessible intervention option would be an ideal strategy not only for older adults who cannot exercise physically but to potentially augment the benefits of physical exercise itself.