Sustained Engagement on Cognitive Function

The Impact of Sustained Engagement on Cognitive Function in Older Adults
The Synapse Project
Denise C. Park, et al.

In the research reported here, we tested the hypothesis that sustained engagement in learning new skills that activated working memory, episodic memory, and reasoning over a period of 3 months would enhance cognitive function in older adults.
In three conditions with high cognitive demands, participants learned to quilt, learned digital photography, or engaged in both activities for an average of 16.51 hr a week for 3 months.

Results at posttest indicated that episodic memory was enhanced in these productive-engagement conditions relative to receptive-engagement conditions, in which participants either engaged in nonintellectual activities with a social group or performed low-demand cognitive tasks with no social contact.

The findings suggest that sustained engagement in cognitively demanding, novel activities enhances memory function in older adulthood, but, somewhat surprisingly, we found limited cognitive benefits of sustained engagement in social activities.

journalistic version:


Cardiorespiratory fitness and cognitive function

Cardiorespiratory fitness and cognitive function in middle age
The CARDIA Study
Published online before print April 2, 2014

Objective: To investigate whether greater cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) is associated with better cognitive function 25 years later.

Methods: We studied 2,747 participants in the community-based Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults Study of black and white men and women aged 18 to 30 years at recruitment in 1985–1986 (baseline year 0). Symptom-limited maximal treadmill test durations at years 0 and 20 provided measures of CRF. Cognitive tests at year 25 measured verbal memory (Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test [RAVLT]), psychomotor speed (Digit Symbol Substitution Test [DSST]), and executive function (Stroop Test).

Results: Per minute of baseline CRF, the RAVLT was 0.12 words recalled higher (standard error [SE] = 0.03, p < 0.0001), the DSST was 0.92 digits higher (SE = 0.13, p < 0.0001), and the Stroop Test score was 0.52 lower (better performance, SE = 0.11, p < 0.0001), after accounting for race, sex, age, education, and clinical center. Compared with the lowest quartile of CRF, each cognitive test was 21% to 34% of an SD better in the highest CRF quartile. Further adjustment for lifestyle and clinical measures attenuated coefficients for RAVLT and DSST slightly, while the coefficient predicting the Stroop Test lost more than half its value (p = 0.07). Analysis in the subset of 1,957 participants who also completed the year-20 treadmill test showed that 20-year change in CRF was positively associated only with DSST (p < 0.001).

Conclusions: Better verbal memory and faster psychomotor speed at ages 43 to 55 years were clearly associated with better CRF 25 years earlier.

journalistic version:


Cognitive Fitness (online course from Harvard Health Publishing)
accessed: July 2019

Optimal sleep time is 7 – 8 hours

Online games offer trove of brain data
21 June 2013

Study of 35 million users of brain-training software finds alcohol and sleep linked to cognitive performance.

brain-training games

online ‘brain-training’ tools

The study, published this week in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, analysed user data from Lumosity, a collection of web-based games made by Lumos Labs, based in San Francisco, California.

The optimal sleep time was seven hours, with performance worsening for every hour of sleep lost or added.

‘crystallized knowledge’ (such as vocabulary)

fluid intelligence’ (such as the ability to memorize new sets of information)

the sample in this study is also biased: the users of brain-training tools are younger (compared to the typical dementia patients), most of them live in the United States or Europe and, most importantly, they are likely to already be interested in cognitive-training tasks.

brain-training techniques

factors that influence cognition

Most adults need between seven and eight hours of sleep every night, says Harvard Medical School’s Charles Czeisler, who is chairman of the board of the National Sleep Foundation.
Any less than that (if it happens regularly) is a “sleep deficiency,”

more on fluid thinking:
This is flexible, fluid thinking — children exploring an unlikely hypothesis.
Exploratory learning comes naturally to young children, says Gopnik.
Adults, on the other hand, jump on the first, most obvious solution and doggedly stick to it, even if it’s not working.
That’s inflexible, narrow thinking. “We think the moral of the study is that maybe children are better at solving problems when the solution is an unexpected one,” says Gopnik.

And that flexibility may disappear earlier than we think.
Gopnik’s lab has also compared toddlers and kindergartners


Dreams and Reality
Why Sleep Matters
October 29, 2015

Five Tips for Women Who Have Trouble Sleeping
By Jill Suttie
August 2019