Aerobic Exercise and Cognitive Training (ACT)

Research background

In the field of cognitive aging research, non-pharmacological interventions have received growing attention as possible methods to prevent or delay cognitive decline. Benefits of these interventions are especially relevant to research involving older adults, who, as a group, note the positives of ‘not taking another pill,’ the near-complete lack of side-effects or risks, the flexibility in tailoring these interventions to specific individuals (more than just altering dosages or types of medications), and the pride in taking an active role in improving their own health.


Aerobic exercise and cognitive training are two non-pharmacological interventions that may help prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease (AD). In some of our previous studies, we tested the effects of cycling in patients with AD and speed of processing (SOP) training in patients with MCI. Preliminary results indicated that six months of cycling can maintain cognition in AD, and greater aerobic fitness is associated with a lower decline in cognition, as well as greater brain network functional connectivity. Additionally, approximately 20 hours of SOP training can strengthen executive function and preserve brain network functional connectivity in MCI.

Training interventions

Aerobic exercise

A moderate-vigorous intensity cycling schedule is prescribed based on each individual's fitness level. The duration of cycling gradually increases over time and includes a cardiac warm-up and cool-down before and after each cycling session. 

Cognitive Training 

Online attention and processing speed training games are involved. The program automatically adjusts the difficulty of each task so that participants are training near their optimal capacity. 

Research aims

While our lab has largely focused on developing computerized versions of cognitive training tasks, we have partnered with colleagues from the University of Minnesota who specialize in researching physical exercise interventions in the same populations to investigate the potential synergistic effect of aerobic exercise and cognitive training. 

Supplements of the ACT study 

PET Study 

Positron Emission Tomography for Evaluation of the Effects of Combined Aerobic Exercise and Cognitive Training on Amyloid Burden in MCI

Previous research has indicated that the build-up of a brain biomarker called amyloid may play a key role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease-related memory loss. The aim of the PET study is to examine the effects of combined aerobic exercise and cognitive training on amyloid levels in older adults with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Participants enrolled in this study undergo a PET scan before and after the 6-month intervention period in the parent ACT study to examine amyloid levels and to see whether less amyloid helps slow memory decline.

Blood Study

Blood Biomarkers as Surrogate Endpoints of Treatment Responses to Aerobic Exercise and/or Cognitive Training in Amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment

The purpose of this study is to see whether blood biomarkers can help track responses to different treatment regimens used to try to prevent or slow cognitive decline. Participants enrolled in this study provide a blood sample at five time points during their participation in the parent ACT study.