WEDNESDAY, Dec. 19, 2018 (HealthDay News) — For sedentary adults at risk for cognitive decline, aerobic exercise (AE) is associated with significant improvement in executive functioning, according to a study published online Dec. 19 in Neurology.

James A. Blumenthal, Ph.D., from the Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, and colleagues conducted a two-by-two factorial randomized clinical trial in 160 sedentary men and women with cognitive impairments with no dementia and cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors. Participants were randomly assigned to AE, Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet nutritional counseling, both AE and DASH, or health education (HE) for six months.

The researchers observed significant improvements in the executive function domain for participants who engaged in AE (d = 0.32; P = 0.046) but not those who consumed the DASH diet (d = 0.30; P = 0.059). Participants randomly assigned to the combined AE and DASH diet group had the largest improvements (d = 0.40; P = 0.012) compared with those receiving HE. Improvements in executive function were seen in association with greater aerobic fitness (b = 2.3; P = 0.049), reduced CVD risk (b = 2.6; P = 0.042), and reduced sodium intake (b = 0.18; P = 0.024). No significant improvements were seen in the memory or language/verbal fluency domains.

“While this overall pattern of results may suggest a potential additive benefit of AE and the DASH diet, we caution that our sample was small, and these findings must be interpreted with caution,” the authors write.

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