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Aerobic activity can improve brain function. Photo by Nicky Lloyd / Getty Images.
The authors note that this is likely the first study of its kind to examine the independent and combined effects of diet and aerobic exercise on neurocognitive function in older adults.

Aerobic Activity Can Improve the Brain's Functional Age, Study Says

Sedentary middle-aged Americans showed cognitive improvement after just six months of adopting routine aerobic exercise and a low-sodium, high-potassium diet.

A commitment to aerobic exercise, such as walking or biking, can begin to reverse the brain's cognitive decline in just six months, according to a new study published in the journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Supplement this activity with a measured diet, and it's possible to reduce the brain's functional age by several years, the study said.

“Lifestyle and Neurocognition in Older Adults with Cognitive Impairments,” published Jan. 15, assessed 160 sedentary middle-aged Americans with risk factors for cardiovascular disease as well as cognitive impairments without dementia. The participants were randomly subjected to six months of aerobic exercise (35-minute bouts of walking or biking) and diets designed to combat hypertension (low in sodium, high in potassium).

The researchers ultimately measured for executive function in addition to memory, language fluency and signs of dementia.

The study states: "Results of this randomized clinical trial demonstrate that a six-month program of aerobic exercise resulted in significant improvements in executive functioning in older adults with cardiovascular disease risk factors, subjective cognitive complaints, and [cognitive impairment without dementia]. Participants who engaged in regular aerobic exercise three times per week for six months demonstrated improved performance on a standard battery of neurocognitive tests of executive function."

Related to diet, the study continues: "The [dietary approaches to stop hypertension] eating plan is similar in its emphasis on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains but places greater emphasis on low-fat dairy products, as well as increased potassium and reduced sodium intake. Data from randomized trials have confirmed the benefits of the diet in lowering blood pressure, improving vascular biomarkers, and enhancing cognitive performance, particularly when combined with weight reduction."

The authors note that this is likely the first study of its kind to examine the independent and combined effects of diet and aerobic exercise on neurocognitive function in older adults at heightened risk for progressive decline in cognitive functioning.

Read the full study here.

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