Study to Examine Possible Exercise-Cognition Link
Center for Vital Longevity Recruiting Participants for Study Funded by National Institute on Aging

It’s well-known that exercise can keep the heart healthy well into our golden years, but can it also help maintain a high quality of mental function in older adults?

That’s what researchers at UT Dallas’s Center for Vital Longevity hope to find out in an ongoing research project aimed at scientifically determining the effects of exercise on cognitive abilities in adults age 60 and older.

Funded by the National Institute on Aging, the project is part of a larger study called Synapse, in which investigators are testing whether specific interventions, such as quilting or another new skill or engaging in social activities, might help stave off the inevitable decline in mental function that comes with age. The results of this work ultimately could help pave the way toward new techniques to maintain memory and other brain functions in an older population.

The researchers currently are recruiting participants age 60 and older for the exercise study. Walking is the exercise of choice.

Dr. Denise Park

Dr. Denise Park

“We are looking for older adults who have not been exercising regularly to take part in this study,” said principal investigator Dr. Denise Park, co-director of the Center for Vital Longevity and holder of the Distinguished University Chair in the School of  Behavioral and Brain Sciences at UT Dallas. “Participants who volunteer for the program not only will have the opportunity to improve their physical health, but also will contribute to science by helping us understand whether exercise can keep the mind healthy as we age.”

Dr. Linda Drew, a research scientist at the center who coordinates Synapse, said volunteers who qualify for the study will receive an extensive cardiovascular health evaluation, including a stress test and a physical exam that looks for the potentially harmful buildup of plaque in the coronary arteries. These evaluations will be conducted at the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine (IEEM), which is associated with Presbyterian Hospital Dallas and UT Southwestern Medical Center.

On their own time, participants will walk for 30 minutes, three times a week to start, and gradually increase their amount of walking. An exercise physiologist will meet weekly and work one-on-one with each participant throughout the 15-week study.

Dr. Linda Drew

Dr. Linda Drew

“Each participant is provided with a heart-rate monitor and pedometer that electronically transmit data to a wristwatch worn during walking,” Drew said. “That information is then downloaded for the exercise physiologist to evaluate.”

Participants also will take part in assessments of their memory, well-being and problem-solving abilities before, during and after the study period. These tests will evaluate changes in cognitive functions such as memory, reasoning and processing speed, or how quickly someone can perform cognitive tasks.

Drew emphasized that all health information collected during the study is kept strictly confidential and will be used for research purposes only. In addition, each participant can request an electronic copy of his or her physical health data obtained at the IEEM.

Park likened the Synapse project’s focus on cognitive aging to previous research efforts aimed at understanding cardiovascular disease and how to prevent it.

“Since the 1970s, increased scientific and public understanding of the factors that contribute to heart disease has led to preventive measures that promote cardiovascular health, as well as a decline in heart disease,” Park said. “Center for Vital Longevity scientists are focused on doing the same for cognitive health, investigating what can be done to maintain a healthy brain, and possibly prevent mental decline as we age.”

Study participants will be financially compensated. For more information about volunteering for Synapse, call 972-883-3200.

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].