Background: Dementia cases may reach 100 million by 2050. Interventions are sought to curb or prevent cognitive decline. Exercise yields cognitive benefits, but few older adults exercise. Virtual reality-enhanced exercise or "exergames" may elicit greater participation.
Purpose: To test the following hypotheses: (1) stationary cycling with virtual reality tours ("cybercycle") will enhance executive function and clinical status more than traditional exercise; (2) exercise effort will explain improvement; and (3) brain-derived neurotrophic growth factor (BDNF) will increase.
Design: Multi-site cluster randomized clinical trial (RCT) of the impact of 3 months of cybercycling versus traditional exercise, on cognitive function in older adults. Data were collected in 2008-2010; analyses were conducted in 2010-2011.
Setting/participants: 102 older adults from eight retirement communities enrolled; 79 were randomized and 63 completed.
Interventions: A recumbent stationary ergometer was utilized; virtual reality tours and competitors were enabled on the cybercycle.
Main outcome measures: Executive function (Color Trails Difference, Stroop C, Digits Backward); clinical status (mild cognitive impairment; MCI); exercise effort/fitness; and plasma BDNF.
Results: Intent-to-treat analyses, controlling for age, education, and cluster randomization, revealed a significant group X time interaction for composite executive function (p=0.002). Cybercycling yielded a medium effect over traditional exercise (d=0.50). Cybercyclists had a 23% relative risk reduction in clinical progression to MCI. Exercise effort and fitness were comparable, suggesting another underlying mechanism. A significant group X time interaction for BDNF (p=0.05) indicated enhanced neuroplasticity among cybercyclists.
Conclusions: Cybercycling older adults achieved better cognitive function than traditional exercisers, for the same effort, suggesting that simultaneous cognitive and physical exercise has greater potential for preventing cognitive decline.
Trial registration: This study is registered at Clinicaltrials.gov NCT01167400.
Copyright © 2012 American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.