Currently viewing the tag: "cognitive function"


Some people are driven by their bodies, and others by their mind. Despite the age-old argument of whether the two entities are separate and distinct, we know one thing for sure–working out the body does wonders for mental health. Take that, Descartes!

A recent study out of Duke University showed that regular moderate exercise and healthy diet together can improve scores on cognition tests. The four-month study conducted by Duke’s nueropsychology department looked at 124 fifty-two year old men and women with high blood pressure (HBP) who were a minimum of 15 pounds overweight, on average. The study was originally designed to look at diet, exercise, and HBP; but the researchers decided to throw in cognitive function as an interesting side investigation.

One third of the participants followed the DASH–Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension–diet, which emphasizes low-fat dairy products, fruits and vegetables, in combination with regular exercise. One third, followed the DASH diet along with a weight-management program and aerobic exercise. The final third went about on their regular dietary and exercise regimens.

The exercise conducted was moderate–30 minutes three to four times a week, “enough to put the heart up to 75 to 80 percent of its maximum rate,” as one of the researchers said. The weight-management programs were split between two strategies–one centered on reducing portion size and cutting the snacking habit, while the other focused on appetite awareness training, which provided guidelines on food quantity (how much one ate) as well as food quality (types of food). The cognitive tests focused on executive function, learning and psychomotor speed.

Researchers found that the group that exercised regularly and ate well had an overall 30 percent improvement in mental function by the end of the four-month period. They also lost an average of 19 pounds and lowered systolic blood pressure (the higher of the 120/80 reading) by 16 points and diastolic pressure by 10 points. Shazam! All by diet and exercise.

As one of the researchers concluded, “There are neurochemical changes that happen with exercise. There is increased production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which stimulates connection with other brain cells, but also there is some evidence that it helps grow new brain cells.”

On top of that, as I point out in my book, The Six Keys to Optimal Health, regular exercise increases circulation, oxygen and nutrient transport to the brain; it reduces depression and anxiety; and it leads to increased production of phenylethylamine (PEA), which is the body’s natural opiates…so it FEELS GOOD! Oh yeah, give it to me, baby!

There you have it: Another study showing the enormous benefits of diet and exercise. Now, before you say, “Big deal, tell me something I don’t know,” understand that these finding should shed some light on the notion of mass use of nootropic drugs, otherwise known as smart drugs. When 7% of all college students and 20% of polled scientists using them to enhance memory, problem solving, attention, and mental endurance, I think it’s time to start discussing alternatives.

No drugs are free of side effects, and the notion of the world’s scientists being tweaked out on designer speed is, well….scary (think Norman Osbourne). So that’s why I post these seemingly obvious studies. Yes, we all know that diet and exercise have wide-ranging benefits. But then why isn’t everybody doing them?


Want a new tool in your anti-aging arsenal? Try gaming. Video gaming that is. New research suggests that playing video games might just help slow down the effects of aging on mental function. And you thought Grand Theft Auto was just for psychos.

According to experts, playing video games can improve older adults’ reflexes, processing speed, memory, attention skills and spatial abilities. Not bad, not bad. And gaming systems like Nintendo’s Wii could even provide seniors with some physical activity. For those who don’t know, the Wii has special controllers requiring hand and arm movements. Although not an ideal form of physical fitness in my humble opinion, some movement is certainly better than nothing.

Saying that, one study did find that seniors playing the Wii bowling game had boosted heart rate during the activity. The study’s participants were between 60-80-years-old.

As far as improved cognitive function, a 2008 study which looked at 60-70-year-olds playing the computer game, Rise of Nations, found that the participants had increased performance on tests of memory, reasoning and cognition. Especially notable were improvements in planning, scheduling, dealing with ambiguity and multi-tasking. Now that’s pretty darn substantial in my book.

Associate professor of psychology at North Carolina State University, Jason Allaire is co-director of its Gains Through Gaming Lab. The Lab has received $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation for further research and how gaming can boost memory and thinking skills in the elderly. Bravo to that!

Researchers plan to focus on three fundamental areas of cognition:

  • Attention demand–most video games require deep attention and focus, useful skills to every area of life
  • Novelty–learning new things creates new dendritic formation, a must in keeping mentally sharp
  • Social interaction–video gaming is often done with others, and now with online gaming…well, a new social outlet is here for the taking

My regular readers know how much I value maintaining mental sharpness. As long as your brain is firing, you are interacting as a conscious life form (I know that’s debatable, but play along). And when you are firing on all cylinders, watch out! Do I think playing video games is better than learning a language, mathematics or an instrument–no, I don’t. But as a supplement, or for people who just can’t bring themselves to become more academic, heck play a video game–they’re fun!

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