Many researchers have affirmed that physical activity helps to prevent cognitive decline as people age. However, less is known whether the cognitive benefits of physical activity differ by type of activity. A group of researchers decided to examine this association fundamentally by going back to the beginning. That is, the beginning of mankind.
Back in the day, mankind found their food by hunting and gathering, activities which required orienteering. Orienteering involves being forced to quickly make decisions in order to quickly navigate through unfamiliar terrain, just like hunters and gathers needed to do. In other words, orienteering is like being a human GPS.
In order to examine the association between orienteering and cognition, researchers surveyed 158 adults between the ages of 18 and 87 with various levels of orienteering experience. The survey included the Navigation Strategy questionnaire and the Survey of Autobiographical Memory. Data from the orienteers was compared to data from 44 physically active adults with no orienteering experience in order to control for the effects of physical health on condition.
After further controlling for age, sex, and physical activity, researchers found that respondents who engaged in orienteering exhibited greater spatial memory and processing than the control group, regardless of age. They ultimately conclude that orienteering can prevent age-related cognitive decline in memory and spatial navigation.
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Waddington, E. E., & Heisz, J. J. (2023). Orienteering experts report more proficient spatial processing and memory across adulthood. PloS one, 18(1), e0280435.