Exercise and healthy diets are linked with better brain functions, says Oxford research

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Did you know that keeping your body in shape can also keep your brain sharp?

In a study published in the Journal of Public Health, scientists found that regular exercise, eating more fruits and vegetables, and maintaining a healthy weight can all improve brain function, no matter your age.

It’s widely accepted that exercise and a healthy diet can help prevent many chronic diseases. As for older adults, there’s growing evidence that breaking a sweat could delay the start of cognitive decline, which is when our brain function begins to deteriorate.

Plus, the stuff found in fruits and veggies is known to fight off illnesses and keep the body’s processes in check.

With more and more people around the world leading inactive lifestyles and becoming overweight, researchers are eager to understand how these risk factors affect cognitive decline and whether a healthy lifestyle can prevent or delay it.

Previous research suggested that older adults who eat more fruits and vegetables perform better mentally than those who eat less. However, few studies have examined how exercise and a diet rich in fruits and vegetables impact the brain function of both younger and older adults.

In this study, the researchers analyzed data from 45,522 participants, all of whom were 30 years of age or older, from the 2012 annual Canadian Community Health Survey.

They used a 6-level question from the Health Utilities Index to assess cognitive function, which included mental processes like thinking, memory, and problem-solving.

The results were fascinating: higher levels of physical activity, eating more fruits and vegetables, and having a normal or slightly overweight BMI (Body Mass Index) were all linked to better brain function in both younger and older adults.

The study also suggested that physical activity might partially explain the link between eating lots of fruits and veggies and having a sharp mind.

So, what’s the takeaway from all of this? The researchers believe that a healthy lifestyle, which includes a nutrient-rich diet, regular exercise, and a good cardiovascular profile, can help delay cognitive decline.

Citation: Cohen A, et al. (2016). Physical Activity Mediates the Relationship between Fruit and Vegetable Consumption and Cognitive Functioning: A Cross-Sectional Analysis. Journal of Public Health, published online. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/pubmed/fdw113.