HAMILTON, ON — Turning off Waze or your favorite GPS app and using an old-fashioned map may be the best way to fight Alzheimer’s disease, a new study reveals. Researchers at McMaster University say orienteering, an outdoor sport that exercises the mind and body through navigational puzzles, can train the brain and stave off cognitive decline. The goal of orienteering is to navigate between checkpoints or checkpoints marked on a special map. In competitive orienteering, the challenge is to complete the course in the fastest time.
For older adults, scientists say sport – which sharpens navigation skills and memory – could become a useful intervention measure to combat the slow decline linked to the onset of dementia. They believe the physical and cognitive demands of orienteering can stimulate parts of the brain that our ancient ancestors used for hunting and gathering.
The human brain evolved thousands of years ago to adapt to harsh environments by creating new neural pathways, the McMaster team explain. However, these same brain functions are not always needed today, thanks to GPS applications and the availability of food.
Unfortunately, the team says these skills fall into a “use it or lose it” situation.
“Modern life may lack the specific cognitive and physical challenges the brain needs to thrive,” says Jennifer Heisz, Canada Research Chair in Brain Health and Aging at McMaster University, in a news release. hurry. “Without active navigation, we risk losing this neural architecture.”
Losing sense of direction is a sign of Alzheimer’s disease
Professor Heisz talks about Alzheimer’s disease, where loss of the ability to find one’s bearings is one of the first symptoms, even in the mildest stage of the disease. In the new study, published in the journal PLOS ONEthe research team interviewed healthy adults between the ages of 18 and 87 with varying degrees of orienteering experience.
People who participated in orienteering showed better spatial navigation and memory abilities, suggesting that adding orienteering elements into their daily routines benefited them throughout their lives. .
“When it comes to brain training, the physical and cognitive demands of orienteering have the potential to give you more bang for your buck compared to exercise alone,” says lead author Emma Waddington, student graduate from the Department of Kinesiology who designed the study. and is a coach and member of the national orienteering team.
Waddington says orienteering is a unique activity because it requires people to actively navigate while making rapid transitions between parts of the brain that process spatial information in different ways. For example, reading a map relies on the reader creating a third-person perspective of their surroundings. Orienteers must quickly translate this information and apply it to their actual position in this environment, in real time and often on the move.
Turn off the GPS
In the digital world, however, GPS systems take those skills away from many people. They not only affect our ability to navigate, but also how the brain processes spatial information and memory in general. For people looking to ward off dementia through orienteering, the researchers suggest turning off GPS and using a map to find their way while traveling. You can also challenge yourself spatially by using a new route for your daily run, walk or bike ride.
“Orienteering is truly a sport for life. You can often see participants aged 6 to 86 engaged in orienteering,” says Waddington.
“My long-term involvement in the sport has given me an understanding of the process of learning navigation skills and I have been inspired to research the uniqueness of orienteering and the scientific significance that this sport can have on the aging population.”
Stephen Beech, editor of the South West News Service, contributed to this report.