A new randomized clinical trial illustrated the combined benefit of exercise and a healthy diet on mild cognitive impairment in older adults who also have cardiovascular risk factors. Researchers say that because this type of cognitive impairment often leads to dementia, it is important to identify actions that can “delay the onset.”
Researchers from the study randomly assorted 160 sedentary older adults into different groups for six months:
- Exercise + DASH diet
- Exercise + no DASH diet
- No exercise + DASH diet
- No exercise + no DASH diet (control)
Specifically, researchers investigated if executive functioning, memory, and verbal fluency could improve in these adults with moderate, regular aerobic exercise and/or the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. DASH diet promotes consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats and is recommended to lower blood pressure1.
Individuals who completed regular aerobic exercise throughout the study showed significant improvements in executive function but not in memory or language/verbal fluency. Researchers saw even more improvement when combining aerobic exercise with DASH diet adherence. However, participants completing the DASH diet alone (no change in exercise) did not show significant changes in executive function. Executive function worsened for individuals in the control group.
Participants adhering to the DASH diet were also associated with reduced cholesterol, reduced weight, reduced LDL, and reduced number of hypertension medications taken.