Walking May Lessen Cognitive Decline in Just Six Months

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Older adults who participate in aerobic exercise like walking or bicycling three times per week can potentially rev up their thinking skills and boost their brain health, especially if they also follow a heart-healthy diet, finds a small study led by researchers at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and published in Neurology.

The study involved 160 older adults (average age 65) with high blood pressure or other cardiovascular risk factors, who didn’t exercise and had verified concerns about cognitive decline, such as problems making decisions, remembering, or concentrating. The study did not include anyone diagnosed with dementia or unable to exercise.

Prior to the start of the study and again at its conclusion, participants underwent cognitive tests, a treadmill stress assessment, and a dietary analysis, and their blood pressure, blood glucose, and lipids were measured. Then they were randomly divided into four groups:

  • One group followed the heart-healthy DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet but didn’t change their sedentary lifestyle.
  • The second group exercised at a cardiac rehab facility three times per week for three months and then exercised for three months at home but didn’t change their diet.
  • The third group exercised three times a week and followed the DASH diet.
  • The fourth group were given advice about reducing their heart disease risk but weren’t asked to change their diet or exercise habits.

According to the Duke researchers, the group that combined exercise and the DASH diet for six months averaged scored significantly higher on cognitive tests, compared to the group that only exercised and the group that didn’t change their diet or exercise habits. On average, members of the exercise/DASH group reversed their brain’s functional age by about nine years.

Sourced from: Neurology