Leveling the Playing Field: Exercise Intervention Boosts Brain Function in Older Hispanics

A recent study examined the effects of an exercise intervention called ¡Caminemos! on the cognitive function of 571 Hispanic/Latino older adults for two years. The study included an examination of a course on countering negative beliefs of the aging process.

Research has shown that exercise has a number of cognitive benefits. However, other studies have shown that Hispanic/Latino older adults are less likely to exercise than other populations. Thus, a recent study examined the effects of an exercise intervention called ¡Caminemos! on the cognitive function of 571 Hispanic/Latino older adults for two years. The study also examined whether the impact of the intervention was affected by giving some participants a course on countering negative beliefs of the aging process that seem uncontrollable to older adults. Researchers dubbed this “attribution retraining.”

The participants were randomly assigned to either a group that included a class on attribution retraining and an exercise class, or an exercise-only group. Attribution-retraining techniques help encourage people to reject the notion that all factors that determine their health are uncontrollable. For example, participants were taught to not attribute deteriorations in health to “old age.” Rather, they were encouraged to focus on what they can control.

This study, a recipient of a 2018 Mather LifeWays Innovative Research on Aging Award, found that participants in both groups, regardless of the attribution-retraining portion, displayed higher cognitive functioning scores at year 1 and year 2 when compared to their original baseline scores. This led to the conclusion that, without any supplementation, this exercise intervention improved cognitive functioning in Hispanics/Latinos. The researchers warn against concluding that the attribution-retraining portion held no merit, and instead suggest that the positive effect of the exercise program overshadowed any potentially observable benefits from attribution retraining.

The researchers suggest that lack of access to low-cost exercise programs may be what is driving the lower frequency of exercise among Hispanic/Latino populations. Low-cost, culturally sensitive exercise programs that target Hispanic/Latino older adults and that are readily available to help preserve cognitive ability and overall health could lead to significant health care cost savings in the long run.

 

SOURCE:

Piedra LM, Andrade FCD, Hernandez R, et al. The influence of exercise on cognitive function in older Hispanic/Latino adults: Results from the “¡Caminemos!” Study. The Gerontologist (2017); 57(6): 1072-1083.

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