Boost brain health

The Times-Tribune - - FRONT PAGE - PAUL J. MACKAREY, P.T., D.H.SC., O.C.S., is A doc­tor in health sciences spe­cial­iz­ing in ortho­pe­dic And sports Phys­i­cal ther­apy. He is in Pri­vate Prac­tice And An As­so­ciate Pro­fes­sor of clin­i­cal medicine At Geisinger Com­mon­wealth School of Medicine. His col

A re­cent study sug­gests healthy be­hav­iors that al­ready might be part of your daily rou­tine are good for your brain too.

It is a well-es­tab­lished fact in med­i­cal lit­er­a­ture that the ben­e­fits of a healthy diet, reg­u­lar ex­er­cise and phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity are nu­mer­ous, from re­duc­ing blood pres­sure to low­er­ing the risk of falls.

But a study re­cently pub­lished in the jour­nal Neu­rol­ogy re­ported that a healthy diet along with reg­u­lar aer­o­bic ex­er­cise may also im­prove brain health and im­prove per­for­mance on cog­ni­tive tests, even in those al­ready show­ing signs of an ag­ing brain. Be­fore these new find­ings, it was un­clear if this healthy be­hav­ior ini­ti­ated later in life would re­verse signs of an al­ready ag­ing brain when com­pared with those fol­low­ing a poor diet and seden­tary lifestyle.

Re­searchers ob­served 160 people over age 55 who be­gan show­ing signs of a slow­ing brain sim­i­lar to people in their 90s, which was an av­er­age of 28 years older than their ac­tual age. All sub­jects were seden­tary at the time of the study, had at least one risk fac­tor for heart dis­ease and showed signs of cog­ni­tive de­cline, with­out any signs of de­men­tia.

The people were di­vided into four groups: Group 1 par­tic­i­pated in aer­o­bic ex­er­cise; Group 2 fol­lowed a healthy diet; Group 3 fol­lowed a healthy diet and par­tic­i­pated in aer­o­bic ex­er­cise; and Group 4 par­tic­i­pated in ed­u­ca­tion ses­sions about im­prov­ing brain health but did not al­ter their diet or en­gage in ex­er­cise.

Aer­o­bic ex­er­cise in this study was de­fined as three months of su­per­vised phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity at a re­search fa­cil­ity in which sub­jects at­tained 70 per­cent of their peak heart rates on a tread­mill or sta­tion­ary bike three times a week. Diet in this study was de­fined as the Di­etary Ap­proaches to Stop Hy­per­ten­sion (DASH), which em­pha­sizes re­duc­ing salt and in­creas­ing fiber to con­trol blood pres­sure and im­prove heart health.

The re­sults found im­prove­ment only in Group 3, the healthy diet and aer­o­bic ex­er­cise group, who im­proved their scores by nine years. The con­trol group con­tin­ued to de­cline in brain func­tion, while the ex­er­cise-only and diet-only groups did not show signs of im­prove­ment.

In this study, people who fol­lowed the DASH diet and per­formed aer­o­bic ex­er­cise for no less than 30 min­utes three times per week — at a 70 per­cent peak heart rate —for three months im­proved their per­for­mance on cog­ni­tive tests. More­over, in those with ev­i­dence of cog­ni­tive im­pair­ment, it was not too late to de­rive ben­e­fits from a healthy diet and aer­o­bic ex­er­cise. These re­sults re­in­force pre­vi­ous re­search that sup­ports the idea that heart health pro­motes good cir­cu­la­tion through­out the body and brain, which is im­por­tant for main­tain­ing oxy­gen-rich blood to fuel its ac­tiv­i­ties, in­clud­ing cog­ni­tion.

Role of aer­o­bics

Aer­o­bic ex­er­cise was strictly de­fined in this study, but that should not in­tim­i­date any­one in­ter­ested in ex­er­cise. In a broader sense, aer­o­bic ex­er­cise is any type of sus­tained ex­er­cise that strength­ens the heart and lungs to im­prove the body’s use of oxy­gen. This may in­clude run­ning/jog­ging, brisk walk­ing, cy­cling, swim­ming, row­ing, and the use of a tread­mill, el­lip­ti­cal, step­per or sim­i­lar de­vice, at light to mod­er­ate in­ten­sity, which re­quires the use of oxy­gen to ad­e­quately meet the de­mands of the body for an ex­tended pe­riod of time. The gen­er­ally ac­cepted time and fre­quency is at least 30-minute ses­sions per­formed three or more times per week.

For those with back, hip, knee and other lower body pain, con­sider low­im­pact or par­tial weight-bear­ing ac­tiv­i­ties such as a re­cum­bent bike or step­per or up­right bike in­stead of a tread­mill.

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