Physical activity has been shown to minimize the losses in physical and mental resources that accompany aging. But if the goal is to increase physical strength and conditioning while improving cognition and spatial memory, aerobic exercise is ideal. Recent research from Medical News Today builds on previous studies and shows that aerobic exercise in particular may be a best choice of intervention for patients with mild cognitive impairment.

To boost cognitive performance, elderly patients should focus on aerobic exercise and weight training over toning or balance training. Research demonstrates that aerobic exercise:

  • Shows a significant correlation between spatial memory performance and overall physical capacity;
  • Greatly increases the number of new neurons that are produced in the area of the brain that influences mental functioning whereas mental training (via skill learning) increases the numbers of neurons that survive, particularly when the training goals are challenging;
  • Benefits cognitive performance, brain function and brain structure in elderly adults;
  • In late life preferentially benefits executive functions, including multi-tasking, planning and inhibition; and
  • Improves the aging brain's ability to effectively engage task-relevant resources, particularly under cognitively challenging conditions.

For addressing therapy goals related to memory, cognition and physical functioning, especially if treatment time or resident/patient cooperation or ability is limited, focusing on aerobic interventions may be the most effective and efficient use of the treatment session.


1. Curlik DM 2nd, Shors TJ. (2013). Training your brain: Do mental and physical (MAP) training enhance cognition through the process of neurogenesis in the hippocampus? Cognitive Enhancers: molecules, mechanisms and minds 22nd Neuropharmacology Conference: Cognitive Enhancers. Neuropharmacology,64, 506–514.

2. Lindsay S. Nagamatsu, et al. (2013) Physical Activity Improves Verbal and Spatial Memory in Older Adults with Probable Mild Cognitive Impairment: A 6-Month Randomized Controlled Trial. J Aging Res, doi: 10.1155/2013/861893.

3. Schaefer S, Schumacher V. (2011). The interplay between cognitive and motor functioning in healthy older adults: findings from dual-task studies and suggestions for intervention. Gerontology, 57(3):239-46.

4. Voss MW, Nagamatsu LS, Liu-Ambrose T, Kramer AF.(2011). Exercise, brain, and cognition across the life span. J Appl Physiol, 111(5):1505-13. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00210.2011.

By Kindred Hospital Rehabilitation Services