Mindful walking and cognition in older adults: A proof of concept study using in-lab and ambulatory cognitive measures

Prev Med Rep. 2021 Jul 14;23:101490. doi: 10.1016/j.pmedr.2021.101490. eCollection 2021 Sep.


Mindfulness practice and walking have been linked individually to sustain cognition in older adults. This early-phase study aimed to establish proof-of-concept by evaluating whether an intervention that integrates light-intensity walking with mindfulness practices shows promising signs of improving cognition in older adults. Participants (N = 25, Mage = 72.4 ± 6.45) were community-dwelling older adults who engaged in a supervised mindful walking program over one month (8 sessions total, 2 sessions per week, 30-minute slow walking containing mindfulness skills). They completed performance-based and subjective ratings of cognitive measures in field before and after two mindful walking bouts using a smartphone app. They also completed in-lab performance-based and self-report cognitive measures at baseline and after the entire program. Controlling for demographics, potential covariates, and time trends, short-term improvements in perceived cognition and processing speed were observed from pre- to post-mindful walking sessions (i.e., 30 min) across multiple ambulatory cognitive measures (Cohen's ds range = 0.46-0.66). Longer-term improvements in processing speed and executive function were observed between baseline and end of the program (i.e., one month) across various performance-based cognitive measures (ds range = 0.43-1.28). No significant changes were observed for other cognitive domains. This early-phase study (Phase IIa) provides preliminary support that mindful walking activity is promising for sustaining cognition in older adults. Our promising findings form the building blocks of evidence needed to advance this intervention to a fully powered randomized controlled trial that examines program efficacy with a comparator. Favorable outcomes will inform the development of this lifestyle behavioral strategy for promoting healthy brain aging in late adulthood.

Keywords: Ambulatory cognitive assessment; Executive function; Healthy aging; Lifestyle activity; Light-intensity physical activity; Walking meditation.