senior fitness

Combining physical exercises with other heart-heart healthy steps could have a protective effect on cognition, a new study suggests. (CBC)

Older people could improve or maintain their mental function through heart healthy lifestyle changes, a large randomized trial for dementia prevention shows. 

Researchers in Finland and Sweden designed a trial to tackle risk factors for Alzheimer's disease.

The 1,260 Finns aged 60 to 77 participating in the study were all considered at risk of dementia based on standard test scores.

Half were randomly assigned to receive advice from health professionals on maintaining a healthy diet, aerobic and muscle training exercises, brain training exercises and regular checks of blood pressure, height and weight for body mass index and physical exams for two years or regular health advice. 

Participants in the Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability or FINGER study had their cognitive function measured in a battery of mental tests. 

"The main hypothesis was that simultaneous changes in several risk factors (even of smaller magnitude) would lead to a protective effect on cognition," Miia Kivipelto from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and her co-authors said in Wednesday's issue of The Lancet.

Overall, test scores were 25 per cent higher in the diet and training group than the control group. 

There was no effect on memory. 

Improved brain functions included processing speed and executive function — the brains' ability to organize and regulate thought processes, such as navigating traffic and planning a route while driving. 

In 2013, a Canadian research review concluded more than one in seven cases of Alzheimer's disease could be prevented if people who are physically inactive started working out regularly.