The not-so-great news: Scientists now believe that one in five Americans over age 65 experiences some form of mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which may affect memory, decision-making, or reasoning skills. In many cases, MCI advances into more severe forms of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease.
The good news: Mounting scientific evidence proves that a lot of our risk for any form of cognitive impairment is in our own hands. Our lifestyle choices each and every day (including these 13 healthy habits) can drastically increase or decrease the likelihood that we'll be diagnosed with dementia.
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Research just published in the Frontiers in Endocrinology suggests that one of those habits—exercise—and a specific form of it may be best for our brains. Individuals who performed moderate-to-vigorous aerobic exercise 3 times per week that increased in intensity over the course of the 6-month study experienced a boost in healthy brain biomarkers.
Previous studies have found that aerobic exercise (AKA any form of cardio, from walking to cycling to dancing) can boost the amount of gray and white matter in the brain, enhance blood flow to the brain and preserve or perhaps even improve memory.
For this particular study, the researchers tracked 23 late middle-aged adults with an average age of 65 and examined three specific biomarkers that are involved in learning and memory. Half were assigned to follow their typical physical activity patterns (which were less than the recommended 150 minutes of aerobic activity per week) while the other half were assigned "enhanced physical activity," or 3 sessions of weekly cardio that got progressively more challenging over the course of the study.
Both the gut microbiome and the three brain metabolites tracked showed beneficial changes in the enhanced exercise group.
Overall, the findings "support the beneficial effects of exercise training on brain function and brain health in asymptomatic individuals at risk for Alzheimer's disease," Henriette van Praag, Ph.D., from Florida Atlantic University's Schmidt College of Medicine tells Florida Atlantic University's News Desk.
The best news of all: You need not run a marathon or bike a 100-mile century ride to score these brain benefits. Another recent study proves that walking 3 times per week can deliver a serious dose of dementia prevention. And if you're new to exercise on the whole, starting with just 10 minutes can truly make an impact in the fight to prevent or slow cognitive decline. Nordic walking is a stellar place to start, and once you're ready to step things up, this $10 tool can up the ante.