April 01, 2019

Moderate exercise can improve mental sharpness

If you're an older adult who doesn't exercise, you may rationalize your sedentary ways by telling yourself it's too late to make much of a difference in your physical and mental health. However, according to a study in Neurology, it takes very little exercise to make often fairly dramatic improvements in the sharpness of your thinking and cognitive ability.

The study involved 160 older adults who led a sedentary lifestyle and who also exhibited a mild decline in cognitive abilities. Participants were randomly assigned to one of four groups. One group started an exercise plan that involved 45 minutes of continuous, moderately intense walking, three days a week. Another group was counseled in following the healthy Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet. The third group did both the exercise and DASH diet, and the fourth group did neither and received only general health counseling.

At the outset of the study, participants exhibited cognitive performance consistent with people in their early 90s — about 20 to 30 years older than their actual ages. After six months, those in the exercise plus DASH group took nearly nine years off of their cognitive age, and those who did neither had their cognitive age increase by six months. The authors noted that separating the effects of exercise versus the effects of diet was difficult in such a small study. In their analysis, the exercise effect was more significant.

This study adds to a significant body of research indicating that the best known way to improve...