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In a large Scandinavian trial, an intensive lifestyle program for older people who were at risk of dementia – involving diet and exercise changes, brain-training exercises and increased medical attention -- showed serious success.
Half of the participants received garden-variety health advice – this was the control group. The others had regular meetings with nurses, doctors and other health care professionals over the two years of the study period. They received advice on healthy eating, weight and cardio training, and brain-stretching lessons. They were also offered targeted medical attention for other physical risk factors via blood tests, weigh-ins and other metrics, according to a release.
During the two-year period, the Swedish and Finnish researchers used standardized tests and found that people participating in the lifestyle program scored 25 percent higher on cognitive skills than the control group which did not participate in the program.
Preserving brain function
The scores for one area of brain skills in particular were impressive. The ability to organize and regulate thought processes – a.k.a. executive functioning – was 83 percent higher in the program group than the control group.
And the brain’s processing speed was 150 percent higher, according to a release from the researchers.
These are benefits most of us would love to see at any age.
Although the researchers found no evidence that this lifestyle overhaul helped slow memory decline, which is arguably one of the most worrisome aspects of dementia, their work does reinforce messages other researchers and health officials have been working to share.
Instead of waiting for health crises to appear – from dementia to heart disease, for instance -- better eating and more physical activity can go a long way to keeping many of us healthy for longer. And better prepared to tackle any diagnosis.
According to a recent Canadian research review, for instance, more than one in seven cases of Alzheimer’s could be prevented if inactive people took up exercise, as the CBC pointed out.
Another reason to get moving.
For more on your health future, learn about what a treadmill test can tell you and the latest on Alzheimer’s.