Here at AgingOptions we always like stories that offer simple solutions to complex problems, and this article which we originally brought to your attention late last year is a good example. Many studies in recent years have shown a clear connection between a healthy body and a healthy brain. But in late 2018 we reported on a new study that demonstrates how something as simple as regular walking can delay, and perhaps even reverse, the onset of cognitive decline leading to dementia. This is great news, even for people who aren’t “into exercise.”
Regular Walking Can Help You Lower the “Functional Age” of Your Brain
We discovered this article last December on the CNN website, and the title immediately grabbed our attention: “Just 6 months of walking may reverse cognitive decline, study says.” The conclusion was straightforward. “Worried about your aging brain?” asks CNN. “Getting your heart pumping with something as simple as walking or cycling just three times a week seems to improve thinking skills, new research says.” By combining regular exercise with a “heart-healthy diet,” the improvement was even more dramatic, “possibly shaving years off your brain’s functional age.”
The CNN article describes a randomized clinical trial, published in the professional journal Neurology, involving 160 adults with an average age of 65. The particular goal was to examine the effects of exercise and diet on patients who were believed to be vulnerable to developing dementia later in life. Subjects chosen for the study had high blood pressure or other risks for cardiovascular disease, and they were people who said they never exercised. Researchers also wanted to study people with “verified cognitive concerns” such as difficulty making decisions, remembering or concentrating. Two-thirds of the study group were female and the subjects were ethnically diverse. People already diagnosed with dementia were excluded as were those who for physical reasons were unable to exercise.
Regular Walking Plus a Healthy Diet: Tracking Four Sub-Groups over Six Months
Subjects in the study were carefully tracked for six months. During that time, the group was divided into four subsets: one changed their diet but not their exercise habits; a second group exercised but did not adjust their diet; the third sub-group did both; and the fourth basically changed neither their diet nor their exercise habits. (This study used what’s called the DASH Diet – “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.”) Those who exercised performed warm-ups followed by a period of continuous walking. Before starting the study, participants underwent “a battery of cognitive tests, a treadmill stress assessment and a dietary analysis,” CNN reported, along with a range of blood tests. All the tests were repeated at the end of the study. Researchers wanted to know: Could a combination of diet and exercise actually reverse the process of cognitive decline in these relatively high-risk patients?
The answer appears to be a clear “yes,” to a degree that researchers found very impressive. Those who exercised but did not change their eating habits saw “significantly greater improvements in their executive functioning skills” compared with non-exercisers. Those who changed their diet only saw a slight improvement. “However,” says CNN, “it was the group who combined exercise and the DASH diet who saw the greatest benefit. This group averaged nearly 47 points on the overall tests of executive thinking skills, compared with 42 points for those who only exercised and about 38 points for those who were told not to change their diet and exercise habits. In fact, the group that both dieted and exercised reversed their brain’s aging by nine years.” To put this in perspective, Dr. James Blumenthal of Duke University, the lead author of the study, told CNN, “Remember, these are older adults who are completely sedentary and have verified cognitive impairments.” Blumenthal added, “You’re improving brain health at the same time as improving heart health.”
Regular Walking Now Can Help You Avoid Burdening Your Loved Ones Later
Here at AgingOptions, we think this is critically important information. Every retiree we talk with wants to avoid becoming a burden to those they love, and few burdens are more severe than serving as a caregiver for someone with dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, about 5.7 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease, and that number is predicted to soar to almost 14 million by 2050. If the changes you make today could reduce the risk of you becoming an Alzheimer’s statistic in the future, we think you owe it to yourself and your family to adjust your diet and your exercise habits, beginning immediately. Your physician should be able to evaluate the approach that’s best for you. For the very best in holistic medical care and advice on diet and exercise, we encourage you to seek out a board-certified geriatrician as the quarterback of your medical team. Contact us and we’ll refer you to a geriatric physician in your area.
As the CNN article suggests, the next step – literally – is up to you. What’s important, study author Blumenthal told CNN, is that “adopting a healthy lifestyle can improve your neurocognitive functioning, and it’s not too late to start. Even in older people with some indication that their brains are compromised, they also benefit as well.” In the same way, it’s never too late to start planning for retirement. The approach used by Rajiv Nagaich and the professional team at AgingOptions is unique in its scope and strategy: instead of focusing piecemeal on one or two elements of a retirement plan, Rajiv looks at all the key facets, including finances, medical coverage, legal protection, housing choices, even communication with your family. These are then woven together into an AgingOptions LifePlan, a powerful, individualized tool to help you create the retirement you’ve always hoped for.
Wherever you are on your retirement journey, we hope you’ll join Rajiv soon at a free LifePlanning Seminar, a fast-paced, information-packed session that will open your eyes to a new way of thinking about and planning for retirement. There’s absolutely no obligation. You’ll find a complete calendar of currently-scheduled seminars here on our Live Events page. It’s never too late to begin! We’ll look forward to meeting you soon at an AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar. Meanwhile, get out and go for a walk – and as we like to say, “Age on.”
(originally reported at www.cnn.com)