Study protocol of a randomized intervention study to explore effects of a pure physical training and a mind–body exercise on cognitive executive function in independent living adults age 65–85



Decline in cognitive function associated with aging is one of the greatest concerns of older adults and often leads to a significant burden for individuals, families, and the health care system. Executive functions are most susceptible to age-related decline. Despite the well-known benefits of regular exercise on cognitive health, older adults tend to be less physically active than other age groups. Thus, there is a need to identify strategies that attract older adults and can enhance cognitive vitality.


This article describes the protocol of a study designed to evaluate whether two interventions, a pure physical exercise and a mind–body exercise, can improve cognitive executive function in independent-living older adults. In addition, the study will explore barriers/facilitators related to adherence.


After baseline assessment, participants will be randomly assigned to one of three groups (strength training, Awareness Through Movement®, or a control group). Participants of the two active groups will attend the interventions for 12 weeks. The control group continues with the usual everyday life. Assessments will include three measures of executive function of the NIH Toolbox, and are administered at baseline, post-intervention and at 3-month follow-up. The primary outcomes are the changes in cognitive executive function performances. Secondary outcomes include adherence, self-efficacy for exercise, symptoms of depression, mindfulness and enjoyment. Attendance will be used as a measure of adherence.

Discussion and conclusion

If successful, the interventions could provide low-cost strategies for older adults to maintain cognitive vitality and has the potential to impact current exercise guidelines.

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All authors have read the journal’s policy on disclosure of potential conflicts of interest. None of the authors have any financial or personal relationship with organizations that could potentially be perceived as influencing the described research to disclose. All authors have read the journal’s authorship statement and agree to the submission of this paper.


This research was funded by the National Institute on Aging (1R15AG058225).

Author information




GU conceptualized the study. GU, YL, MR are responsible for the rationale and design of the study and acquired the funding. YL reviewed and revised the interventions. MR guided the statistical methods and the planned analyses. STL provided intellectual and practical contributions to study processes and recruitment strategies. The manuscript was drafted by GU, while all authors (GU, YL, MR, STL) provided critical revision of the paper. All authors read and approved the final manuscript (GU, YL, MR, STL).

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Correspondence to Gerhild Ullmann.

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This intervention study will be performed in accordance with the ethical standards stated in the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments.

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Signed informed consent will be obtained from all eligible participants before baseline assessment.

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Ullmann, G., Li, Y., Ray, M.A. et al. Study protocol of a randomized intervention study to explore effects of a pure physical training and a mind–body exercise on cognitive executive function in independent living adults age 65–85. Aging Clin Exp Res (2020).

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  • Strength training
  • Feldenkrais Method®
  • Cognition
  • Mindfulness
  • Awareness through movement®
  • Aging