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Exercising the body and the mind may prevent Alzheimer’s

Every 67 seconds someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s according to the Alzheimer’s Association. There is no cure for the disease, which worsens as it progresses, and eventually leads to death. However results from one of the largest randomized prevention trial to date suggest that seniors at risk for cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s may help safeguard their memory and ability to think by adopting a healthier lifestyle.

During the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2014 in Copenhagen, Denmark, on July 13th, 2014, researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden and the National Institute for Health and Welfare, Helsinki showed that the combination of eating well, exercising, training your brain, keeping socially engaged, and managing obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes can reduce someone’s risk of memory decline. The study is the first to examine the impact of all four factors together; other studies have looked at pieces of healthy lifestyles, but not the combination.

The trial, the Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability involved 1,260 Finnish volunteers. Participants were between the ages of 60 and 77, and at risk for Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. They were divided into two groups. Half were randomly assigned to get an intensive lifestyle makeover, with both group and individual nutrition advice, an exercise trainer, and a nurse or physician who made sure they took their medications. In addition, these volunteers benefited from a social support system. The other half received appropriate health care, but not at the intensive level the intervention group did, and without the social support of their fellow participants.

At the end of the two-year study period, the group that paid extra attention to healthy eating, exercising, engagement and management of heart-health risk factors performed significantly better on tests of memory and other cognitive abilities than the control group. Researchers will follow both groups an additional seven years to see if the improvement continues.

“We were surprised that were able to see a clear difference already after two years,” said Miia Kivipelto, the lead investigator of the study who presented the results at the annual meeting of the Alzheimer’s Association. She was especially pleased to see the effect since the control group also received adequate and appropriate health care. “We thought that two years may not be enough, but the multi-domain approach seems to be an effective way of doing something to protect memory.”

“This is a very important message,” says Kivipelto “It’s still possible to do something for your brain when you are 70 years old.”

“These findings show that prevention is possible, and that it may be good to start early,” says Kivipelto. “With so many negative trials for Alzheimer’s drugs reported lately, it’s good that we may have something that everyone can do now to lower their risk.”

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