Diet and Exercise Might Reverse Aging in the Brain

Diet and Exercise

It’s no secret that a healthy diet and plenty of exercise are key to good health, as study after study continues to show. But the latest analysis puts some hard numbers on just how big a benefit they can have on the brain, by possibly reversing some of the effects of aging.

In a study published in the journal Neurology, researchers led by James Blumenthal, professor in psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center, found that even among a group of older people who already show signs of thinking problems, exercising regularly over six months and eating more healthfully can improve their performance on cognitive tests.

The 160 people in the study, who were all over 55, began the study showing thinking skills that were similar to people in their 90s: 28 years older, on average, than they actually were. The volunteers were divided into four groups. One group participated in an aerobic exercise program, another was assigned a low-sodium diet, a third was asked to exercise and change their diet at the same time, and a fourth control group was provided educational sessions about how to improve their brain health.

The group that exercised and changed its diet at the same time showed the greatest improvements in cognitive tests after six months. They improved their test scores by nine years, to resemble those of people 84 years old. The control group showed a continued decline in their brain test scores, and the researchers did not see a significant benefit from either exercise or change in diet alone.

“The bottom line is that it’s not too late to derive benefits from exercise, even in this group of people who have evidence of cognitive impairments,” says Blumenthal.

Diet and Exercise

All of the men and women in the study were sedentary when they started the study, and while they showed signs of cognitive decline, they did not have dementia. They also had at least one heart-disease related risk factor. Researchers know that heart health, and how well blood circulates throughout the body and brain, is important to maintaining cognitive skills, since the brain relies on oxygen–rich blood to fuel its activities.

Blumenthal was impressed that improving diet and exercise was helpful even in this group that was at risk of developing cognitive problems and potentially even dementia. “This is not necessarily a cure, but there is currently no pharmaceutical intervention for preventing dementia,” he says. “So a starting point of improving lifestyle with exercise and perhaps diet in this group of people can have important implications down the road for their overall wellbeing.”

The fact that the group following both the exercise and diet programs showed the greatest benefit suggests that the two interventions may work together to improve brain health, Blumenthal says. “We saw evidence that exercise and the diet together are better than nothing,” he says. “We showed you can get improvements in function that can reduce and certainly improve neurocognitive function, and possibly even postpone development of dementia late in life.”

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Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself. Science Says You Have a Pretty Good Sense of Your Own Personality

Sense of Your Own Personality

It’s a common belief among psychologists that people’s perceptions of themselves should be taken with a grain of salt, because they’re often thought to be positively biased and less accurate than the judgments supplied by others. But you really do know yourself best, according to a new paper published in the journal Psychological Science.

The new research found that people are actually better at judging their own personalities than scientists previously assumed — and, if anything, people tend to view themselves more negatively than others do.

“I honestly went into this research thinking, ‘Yeah, we’ll find big effects for self-enhancement,’ and that wasn’t the trend at all,” says study co-author Brian Connelly, an associate professor of management at the University of Toronto-Scarborough.

While individuals vary in their tendencies, the researchers found that on average, people are unlikely to overhype their traits more than their family, friends or colleagues. (They did find that self-reports were often more positive than assessments from strangers, who may judge someone both inaccurately and unfairly harshly.)

Of the “Big Five” personality traits — emotional stability, extraversion, openness/intellect, agreeableness and conscientiousness — the researchers found that on average, individuals’ self-assessments tracked closely with or were even harsher than those supplied by outsiders. People’s ratings of their own emotional stability and conscientiousness were especially likely to be more negative than what their peers said.

The researchers only found a consistent positive bias in how people rated their own openness, relative to others’ descriptions. Even there, the effect was small and confined to a few sub-measures of openness, such as tendency to be reflective, explore artistic pursuits and experience new things.

Sense of Your Own Personality

But Connelly says the discrepancies in the ratings you supply for yourself versus those provided by others might have more to do with other people than with you. It’s difficult for people to understand and accurately judge another person’s innermost self, which may lead to skewed results. “Being open and thoughtful and reflective is something that people don’t necessarily see,” Connelly says. “It’s something that’s harder for them to guess, so other people may not know when it’s happening. In the same way, feeling lots of negative emotions, like anxiety and depression, are hard things to see, unless somebody talks about it.”

There’s also a well-known psychological phenomenon called the fundamental attribution bias, which says that people are more likely to blame someone else’s failings on that person’s personality, while they chalk their own shortcomings up to situational circumstances. With all of these tendencies at play, Connelly says, it’s difficult for anyone to be truly accurate and objective when it comes to assessing personality, even their own.

“Who knows personality truly and without bias? We don’t necessary know that ourselves. Other people don’t necessarily know it. But if you ask a lot of people, you’re probably getting at least a pretty good and accurate view of someone,” Connelly says. “As a whole, that means that we generally will balance out toward having accuracy in how we perceive ourselves and what we predict about ourselves.”

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