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Healthy living can protect against mental decline

Healthy living can protect against mental decline Good diet and moderate exercise shown to prevent memory loss

Being physically active and eating the right foods can help to prevent memory loss and mental impairment according to two recent studies.

In the first study, scientists looked at the effect of the so-called DASH diet. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, and refers to a diet designed to help reduce blood pressure in those with high blood pressure, also known as hypertension.

The study looked at nearly 4,000 participants over 11 years, and rated their diet against the DASH diet and compared this to their mental abilities. The DASH diet consists of foods in 9 main groups - fruit, vegetables, nuts/legumes, whole grains, low-fat dairy, sodium, sweets, non-fish meat, and fish. The participants were put into 5 groups depending on how close their diet was to the DASH ideal.

They found that higher DASH scores were associated with higher scores for mental ability at the start of the study and over time. Interestingly, four of the nine food groups were found to be associated with the improvement independently - these were vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy and nut/legumes. In other words, diets rich in these foods were found to be associated with higher scores on mental ability tests.

The scientists at Utah State University, who conducted the study, cautioned that they cannot yet make specific recommendations as to how much of these foods to include in your diet, but there does seem to be a beneficial effect.

In a separate study, scientists in California looked at the effects of physical activity on a group of nearly 4,000 people aged between 70 and 79. They found that the rate of mental decline was highest for those who undertook little or no exercise, and was lowest for those who maintained active lifestyles.

Encouragingly, participants who previously had inactive lifestyles experienced improvement in mental ability if they became more active. "Sedentary individuals should be encouraged to engage in physical activity at least occasionally, and people who are currently active should be encouraged to maintain or increase their activity levels," said Professor Deborah E. Barnes, one of the leaders of the study.

The study was carried out by scientists at the University of California and the San Francisco VA Medical Center.

This article was published on Wed 15 July 2009

Image © Monkey Business - Fotolia.com

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