Cognitive plasticity in older adults: effects of cognitive training and physical exercise

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2015 Mar:1337:1-6. doi: 10.1111/nyas.12682.


Cognitive training, physical activity, and exercise have often been reported to improve cognitive performance in older adults. This paper reviews some seminal and recent studies using these approaches to improve cognition and physical functioning in healthy older adults and in patients suffering from non-neurological chronic medical conditions. Results from cognitive training studies suggest that despite performance improvement in trained tasks, transfer effects appeared very limited. Surprisingly though, computerized dual-task training has been shown to improve balance and postural control in tests of physical functioning, suggesting that broad transfer can sometimes be observed. Physical exercise intervention studies generally found significant and large improvements in physical capacity, in some cognitive domains, and in quality of life. The benefits seem to be equivalent between frail and nonfrail participants. Overall, results reviewed here support the notion that cognitive plasticity for attentional control, as induced by cognitive training or physical activity and exercise, is preserved in late adulthood. Moreover, results of studies with patients at risk of cognitive decline also suggest that cognitive training and exercise interventions are promising nonpharmaceutical tools to help improve cognition in older at-risk individuals.

Keywords: cognitive aging; cognitive plasticity; cognitive training; exercise; physical activity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging*
  • Attention
  • Chronic Disease
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Cognition Disorders / prevention & control*
  • Dementia / prevention & control
  • Exercise*
  • Humans
  • Music
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Oxygen Consumption
  • Software