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Diet, Exercise Can Improve Thinking
Date:3/8/2010

Study finds benefits for the mind, not just the body

MONDAY, March 8 (HealthDay News) -- A good diet and regular exercise may help the mind function better, a new study suggests.

"It looks like exercise and diet improve the range of cognitive function," said Patrick Smith, an intern in clinical neuropsychology and a member of a Duke University team reporting the finding online in the March 8 issue of Hypertension. "It helps executive function, learning and psychomotor speed."

The researchers followed 124 men and women with high blood pressure who were 52 and a minimum of 15 pounds overweight, on average.

Led by James Blumenthal, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke, the study was designed primarily to determine the effect of diet and exercise on blood pressure and included people with mild to moderate high blood pressure.

The mental studies were included because "some previous data linked exercise and diet to better cognitive function," Smith said. The new results verified those findings, he noted.

A third of the participants went about eating and exercising as they usually did. Another third followed the DASH -- Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension -- diet, which emphasizes low-fat dairy products, fruits and vegetables, in combination with regular exercise. The final third were in a program that combined the DASH diet with a weight-management program and aerobic exercise.

Two strategies were used in the weight-management program: One centered on reducing portion size and changing habits, such as snacking. The other used an approach called appetite awareness training, which provides guidelines on how much to eat, not just what to eat.

Smith said the exercise part of the program wasn't drastic -- "workouts of 30 minutes three to four times a week, enough to put the heart up to 75 to 80 percent of its maximum rate."

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