Extensive research suggests that physical activity (PA) is important for brain and cognitive health and may help to delay or prevent Alzheimer's disease and related dementias. Most PA interventions designed to improve brain health in older adults have been conducted in laboratory, gym, or group settings that require extensive resources and travel to the study site or group sessions. Research is needed to develop novel interventions that leverage mobile health (mHealth) technologies to help older adults increase their engagement in PA in free-living environments, reducing participant burden and increasing generalizability of research findings. Moreover, promoting engagement in moderate-to-vigorous PA (MVPA) may be most beneficial to brain health; thus, using mHealth to help older adults increase time spent in MVPA in free-living environments may help to offset the burden of Alzheimer's disease and related dementias and improve quality of life in older age.
We developed a novel PA intervention that leverages mHealth to help older adults achieve more minutes of MVPA independently. This pilot study was a 12-week randomized controlled trial to investigate the feasibility of providing just-in-time (JIT) feedback about PA intensity during free-living exercise sessions to help older adults meet current PA recommendations (150 minutes per week of MVPA).
Participants were eligible if they were cognitively healthy English speakers aged between 65 and 80 years without major cardiovascular, neurologic, or mental health conditions; could ambulate independently; and undergo magnetic resonance imaging. Enrollment occurred from October 2017 to March 2020. Participants randomized to the PA condition received an individualized exercise prescription and an mHealth device that provided heart rate–based JIT feedback on PA intensity, allowing them to adjust their behavior in real time to maintain MVPA during exercise sessions. Participants assigned to the healthy aging education condition received a reading prescription consisting of healthy aging topics and completed weekly quizzes based on the materials.
In total, 44 participants were randomized to the intervention. A follow-up manuscript will describe the results of the intervention as well as discuss screening, recruitment, adverse events, and participants’ opinions regarding their participation in the intervention.
The long-term goal of this intervention is to better understand how MVPA affects brain and cognitive health in the real world and extend laboratory findings to everyday life. This pilot randomized controlled trial was conducted to determine the feasibility of using JIT heart rate zone feedback to help older adults independently increase time spent in MVPA while collecting data on the plausible mechanisms of change (frontal and medial temporal cerebral blood flow and cardiorespiratory fitness) that may affect cognition (memory and executive function) to help refine a planned stage 2 behavioral trial.