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Exercise plus THIS 1 THING improves thinking

Uncategorized Apr 13, 2021

Welcome back, Careblazer. In last week’s post, I answered the question about whether cognitive games work. As I talked about, the results are a bit mixed and the overall finding is that they won’t hurt and they may help. 

In today’s post, I wanted to talk about exercise and something surprising. There is plenty of research that has been done to show that exercise is one of the BEST things anyone can do to help maintain and improve brain health. Even people with dementia can regrow brain cells and improve functioning through exercise. BUT recently there has been a new field of study that is showing that there is something better than just exercise. It’s pretty exciting. There will likely be a lot more research in this area in the future and I want to share it with you because this is something you can definitely do for yourself to maintain and improve brain health and depending on your loved one’s severity of dementia. It may also help improve their overall cognitive functioning. 

If you would rather watch a video on this topic, click here.

Are you ready for it? It’s the combination of exercise while engaging in some type of cognitive challenge or game. That’s right. I’m going to break down a recent study AND at the end of this post, I’m going to give you some ideas for what cognitive challenges you can do the next time you or your loved go on a walk so you don’t want to miss that.


Alright let’s dive in. 


There was a 12 week study published in 2020 that looked at 4 different groups of older adults between the ages of 60-74. 

An exercise group where they followed an exercise program

A cognitive group where they did some cognitive games/challenges 

A combined group where they did both cog and exercise. So they rode a stationary bike and tried completing a maze puzzle while answering various question

And finally what they call a control group, where they watched some nature documentaries 


THEN the researchers tested how these different groups did on a 2 minute walking/cognitive task where they had to continually subtracting backwards from 500. So everyone started at 500 and then had to subtract 7 from 500 as they walked and they were timed. 500-493-486- 479 and so on. 

The  exercise group, the cognitive group and the combined exercise/cognitive groups improved but the group that was in the combined exercise/cognitive group improved by over 50% on their overall test scores 6 weeks into the program and the exercise alone and cognitive alone groups improved at less than half of that amount. 

This study is showing that when you combine a physical exercise WITH a cognitive challenge, your cognitive performance on another later task can improve. I’ll give you some ideas of different cognitive challenges you can do on your own in a minute AND I’ll link the full article of this study below in my description if you want to take a deeper dive. 

Now what kind of cognitive tasks could you do the next time you are on a stationary bike or walking?


You could consider something like the study where you subtract a number over and over again from a bigger number. For example start at 100 and subtract 8 from 100 over and over again. 

You could time yourself for 1 minute and try to name as many different cities as possible without repeating any. 

You could do random math problems like adding numbers together or multiplying numbers. 

You could see how fast you can name all the months of the year backwards . 

You could see how many different words you can come up with that start with the letter O in one minute. 


The key is challenging your brain as you move your body. 


Now this is an emerging research field so there aren’t very clear and definitive answers to questions about how long the exercise should be, what types of cognitive challenges work, how long the improvements last, etc. In this study, the individuals did the exercise and cognitive challenges 3 times/week. 

BUT, even though we don’t have all the answers yet, similar to last week’s video on cognitive games, there is no risk of harm, and lot’s of potential for improvement. Now obviously, careblazer don’t try the cognitive tasks while you’re riding a real bike- you want to keep your safety in mind. These are good things to do while walking in a safe area, doing aerobics in your home, or while using stationary equipment. Use your good judgment. 


Again, Careblazer. I’m linking the full study I referenced in this post so you can learn more. I do hope you will consider doing something like this for yourself. Also, if your loved one is in the mild or early moderate stages, perhaps this is something they would be interested in and be able to participate in as well. 


Let me know if you plan to add some cognitive challenges to your next workout and what cognitive challenge you do. I look forward to hearing from you. Personally, I find myself doing multiplication and addition problems in my head when I’m running. I don’t do it the entire workout, but I do try to do it for several minutes.


Have a wonderful week Careblazers! See you next week for another post. 


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