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Virtual-reality activity may boost the brain benefits of exercise

Virtual-reality activity may boost the brain benefits of exercise

Scientists have found that physical exercise is good for brain function, but a new study finds that adding mental tasks in conjunction could actually boost the effect for older people.

Researchers assigned 79 adults, most in their late 70s or early 80s, to exercise for 45 minutes, five days a week, on a recumbent stationary bicycle or on a cybercycle, a recumbent bike equipped with a computerized screen that facilitated interactive virtual-reality gaming. The latter group participated in simulated bike tours and races while exercising.

Periodic cognitive tests on all participants showed that after three months, those who cybercycled improved their scores on executive function tests, which measured planning, organizing and problem-solving abilities.

On the other hand, those who simply pedaled had no cognitive improvements. In addition, cybercyclists were 23 percent less likely than the others to have developed mild cognitive impairment.

While some cognitive declines, such as memory lapses, are considered normal as people age, this study — published in the February issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine — suggests stimulating the mind by staying mentally active may help stave off those effects.

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