Cognitive Improvement Following Physical Exercise and Cognitive Training Intervention for Older Adults With MCI

J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2023 Mar 1;78(3):554-560. doi: 10.1093/gerona/glac189.


Background: The diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) presents a critical period for intervention. Although exercise and cognitive training (CT) interventions have reported independent success in improving cognition, some meta-analyses have suggested that combined interventions provide maximal benefits. Much previous research has studied land-based as opposed to water-based exercise, which places potential barriers on older adults. The purpose of the current study was to examine the impact of combined exercise (water- or land-based) and CT treatment on cognition for older adults with MCI.

Methods: Participants were 67 adults ages 54-86 years classified with MCI who engaged in 6 months of land or aquatic-based exercise with subsequent CT over 4 weeks. Primary outcome variables were performance measures of several cognitive domains across 3-time points (baseline, following exercise intervention, and following CT intervention). Linear mixed effects modeling examined exercise group differences across time periods in an intention-to-treat analysis.

Results: Both aquatic- and land-based exercise with CT interventions resulted in significant improvement in learning and memory outcomes, though improvement in executive functioning, processing speed, language, and visuospatial abilities was limited to water-based and CT treatment groups. Differences in linear growth patterns between groups were nonsignificant.

Conclusion: Results suggest that for older adults with MCI to obtain global cognitive benefits (ie, learning and memory, executive functioning, processing speed, language, and visuospatial abilities) using combined exercise and CT interventions, they must be able to fully engage in exercise, and aquatic-based activities should be further considered.

Keywords: Cognitive training; Learning and memory; Water-based exercise.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cognition
  • Cognitive Dysfunction* / diagnosis
  • Cognitive Training*
  • Executive Function
  • Exercise
  • Exercise Therapy / methods
  • Humans