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Computer use and moderate exercise reduce odds of memory loss

Seniors on the couch looking at the computer and studying financial information. istockphoto

(CBS News) Need a memory boost? A new study shows that combining moderate exercise with computer use decreases one's odds of memory loss.

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Previous studies have shown that exercising your body and stimulating your mind help with memory - but the new study shows the benefits of the two when combined.

The study, published in the May 2012 issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings, looked at 926 people in Olmsted County, Minn., ages 70 to 93. The participants answered questionnaires about their exercise and computer use within the past year.

Of the participants who did not exercise and did not use a computer, 20.1 percent were cognitively normal and 37.6 percent showed signs of mild cognitive impairment. Of those who exercised and used a computer, 36 percent were cognitively normal and 18.3 percent showed signs of mild cognitive impairment.

"The aging of baby boomers is projected to lead to dramatic increases in the prevalence of dementia," Dr. Yonas Geda, a physician scientist with the Mayo Clinic, said in a written statement. "As frequent computer use has becoming increasingly common among all age groups, it is important to examine how it relates to aging and dementia. Our study further adds to this discussion."

Although the study singled out computer use as a mentally stimulating activity due to its popularity, other activities with similar benefits include reading, playing games, playing music, and artistic activities. Examples of moderate physical exercise are brisk walking, hiking, strength training, swimming, and yoga.

Why do mental and physical exercise work better together? "The mental stimulation may be polishing the communication lines and giving good connections between neurons," Geda told TIME Healthland. "It's like working in a concert. When the two processes come together, it works like a symphony."

A recent study found seniors who incorporate strength training to their exercise routine may stave off symptoms of dementia, HealthPopreported.

Mild cognitive impairment is the stage between normal forgetfulness due to aging and dementia. Symptoms of MCI include difficulty performing more than one task at a time, difficulty solving problems or making decisions, and forgetting recent events or conversations. People with MCI are often aware of their forgetfulness, but their problems with thinking and memory do not interfere with everyday activities. Not everyone with MCI develops dementia.

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