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Aerobic Exercise Can Improve Executive Functioning

Neurology; 2019 Jan 15; Blumenthal, et al

Aerobic exercise (AE) promotes improved executive functioning in adults at risk for cognitive decline. This according to a recent study that aimed to examine independent and additive effects of AE and the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet on executive functioning in adults with cognitive impairments with no dementia (CIND) and risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD). A 2-by-2 factorial (exercise/no exercise and DASH diet/no DASH diet) randomized clinical trial was conducted in 160 sedentary men and women (aged >55 years) with CIND and CVD risk factors. Participants were randomly assigned to 6 months of AE, DASH diet nutritional counseling, a combination of both AE and DASH, or health education (HE). Researchers found:

  • Participants who engaged in AE but not those who consumed the DASH diet demonstrated significant improvements in the executive function domain.
  • The largest improvements were observed for participants randomized to the combined AE and DASH diet group compared to those receiving HE.
  • Greater aerobic fitness, reduced CVD risk, and reduced sodium intake were associated with improvements in executive function.
  • There were no significant improvements in the memory or language/verbal fluency domains.

Blumenthal JA, Smith PJ, Nabe S, et al. Lifestyle and neurocognition in older adults with cognitive impairments. A randomized trial. Neurology. 2019;92(3):e212-e223. doi:10.1212/WNL.0000000000006784