The most critical habit for maintaining your brain power

There are plenty of ways to reduce your risk of serious cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s. And you’ve probably read about many of them — herbs, meditation practices, special diets.

But the fact is, most of us won’t get Alzheimer’s…

Alzheimer’s only strikes about 10 percent of people over the age of 65. The other 90 percent never end up with this devastating disease.

Of course, just because you’re Alzheimer’s-free, doesn’t mean you get off scot-free…

Many of us develop some cognitive impairments as we age. These issues are nowhere near as scary as Alzheimer’s, but they take a bite out of your quality of life nonetheless.

So, what can we do to keep our cognitive abilities (and our quality of life) from slipping away? Or more importantly, how can we restore our cognitive abilities if they’ve already started to slip away?

The answer is simple:

Go for a walk or bike ride.

A new study found that aerobic activities like these can prevent or even reverse those common cognitive impairments that pop up with age.

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What a difference exercise makes…

Even though most people will never develop dementia, plenty of people will develop cognitive impairments of some sort.  These impairments include difficulty concentrating, making decisions or remembering things.

But a new study shows cognitive impairments like this can be remedied in a short six weeks through aerobic exercise…

Researchers from Duke University Medical Center found that older adults with cognitive impairments brought their brain power back by getting aerobic exercise three times per week.

The study included 160 people who were an average of 65 years old. They all had cognitive impairments and were sedentary at the start of the study.

Study participants were broken into four groups. One group changed their diet. One group changed their exercise routine. One group changed both. And the final group just received health education.

Six months later, only people who exercised saw improvements in their cognitive abilities…

Related: Double the heart-healthy benefits of exercise without working harder

They saw improvements in something called executive function. Executive function includes your ability to pay attention, manage time, switch focus, plan, organize, multitask, remember details and avoid saying or doing the wrong things. So, it has a big impact on your life.

People who exercised and changed their diet scored an average of 47 points on an executive function test. People who only exercised scored an average of 42 points on an executive function test, while people who only received health education scored an average of 38 points.

But here’s what’s even more amazing…

At the start of the study, some people had the executive function of a 93-year old (even though they were only in their mid-sixties). But by exercising and changing their diet, these people were able to get their executive function to that of an 83-year-old. Still not ideal…. but they were able to knock a good nine years off in just six months.

That’s amazing. Especially when you consider that people who only received health education saw their executive function decline in those six months.

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Your brain power exercise routine and diet plan

So, what type of exercise should you do to experience similar results?

Well, in the study, people exercised three times per week for 45-minutes. They did a 10-minute warm-up followed by 35 minutes of aerobic exercise, like walking, jogging, or cycling on a stationary bicycle.

People who received the best results also changed their diet. (Although, exercise alone did make a difference.) They ate a Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, which includes fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, and lean meats. In fact, it’s very similar to the Mediterranean diet.

So, whether you’ve already noticed your cognitive abilities slipping or you want to prevent cognitive decline before it starts, make these simple changes now and set yourself up for a future filled with cognitive health.

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  1. Facts and Figures — Alzheimer’s Association
  2. In Just Six Months, Exercise May Help Those with Thinking Problems — MedicalXpress
  3. What Is Executive Function? — WebMD
Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine,, and