Claudann Jones

Can there be anything more highly recommended and universally agreed upon than regular exercise and healthy nutrition for a sound mind and sound body? If there is, it’s the best-kept secret around. In short, diet and exercise are no-brainers, especially when it comes to the brain.

Today, we have a better understanding of the positive effects of exercise and the foods we eat on mental health. But what about cognitive health — our ability to remember things, our capacity to easily access, retrieve, interpret and articulate stored information from our brain? When that declines, can regular exercise and healthy eating help that, too? New research suggests that it can.

Mild cognitive impairment is the term given to a condition where a slight but noticeable decline in cognitive abilities takes place. There are two types of MCI: (1) “amnestic MCI” affects a person’s recall and ability to remember things such as appointments and recent events and (2) “nonamnestic MCI” includes thinking skills, such as the ability to make decisions and solve complex tasks. A person with MCI has an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

In a study published in 2018, researchers at Duke University Medical Center reported that an experimental group of older adults living with MCI (but not dementia) who participated in six months of thrice-weekly aerobic exercise, and followed the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), experienced substantial improvement in their “executive functioning.” Executive functioning refers to mental activities processed in the frontal lobe of the brain including remembering things, organizing tasks, managing time, paying attention and thinking creatively. Other groups in this randomized investigation that only followed the diet, only exercised or were only given health education material to study did not demonstrate this level of improvement to their MCI condition. In fact, the study demonstrated that improved planning skills as a result of the intervention rivaled skills of those who are eight years younger.

So, how can you apply this information to your own life? It is essential that you recognize that making changes to your lifestyle can have a dramatic and positive effect on your brain health (and overall health, of course).

For more information, contact Claudann Jones, Smith County Extension agent for family and community health, at 903-590-2980 or email at Like our Facebook page: Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Smith County.

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