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diet and exercise

The legendary actor and entertainer, Dick Van Dyke turns 90 this December. He’s still acting plus singing and dancing a little every day. The title of his new book offers a major clue to the secret of his success: Keep Moving. As he recently told the Today Show, in addition to being active, Van Dyke also maintains a healthy diet, full of lean proteins, fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

By now, we’ve all heard how important it is to eat right and get regular exercise. It boosts our overall physical and psychological well-being and can result in a longer, fuller life. Recently, as reported by CBC News, researchers in Finland and Sweden wanted to discover if older people could improve or maintain their mental function by making heart healthy lifestyle changes. Their study included a large randomized trial for dementia prevention.

Candidates for the study, which took place in Finland, were evaluated for their risk of developing dementia. Based on their test scores, 1,260 subjects, aged 60 to 77 received scores that put them at risk for dementia.

The group was next divided in half. One group was placed on a rigorous schedule of aerobic and muscle training exercises plus frequent brain training activities. They received guidance and advice from health care professionals who saw to it that they consumed a healthy balanced diet and received regular blood pressure checks. Subjects also obtained evaluations of their body mass indices based on their height and weight. Along with the lifestyle changes and health monitoring, the participants were also given regular tests to record their brain functioning.

This went on for two years and was dubbed the “Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability” or FINGER study. The hypothesis of the study examined if simultaneous changes made to lifestyle risk factors would have a positive effect on brain functioning.

Although the changes did not appear to affect memory, test scores were 25 percent higher in the healthy lifestyle group as opposed to the control group. Among the types of brain functioning that improved, processing and executive functioning were noteworthy. Those reflect the brain’s ability to “organize and regulate thought processes, such as navigating traffic and planning a route while driving.”

Another study from 2013, which took place in Canada had similar results. Those researchers concluded that, more than one in seven cases of Alzheimer’s disease could be prevented among physically inactive patients if they would work out regularly.

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