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MedWalk: Could The Mediterranean Diet And Walking Improve Brain Health? Health News

In a groundbreaking study, scientists are exploring the potential protective effects of combining a Mediterranean diet with regular walking on brain health, particularly in the context of dementia and cognitive decline.

Both the Mediterranean diet and a routine of regular walking have independently demonstrated positive associations with brain health. However, this ongoing study endeavours to uncover the combined influence of these two factors and their potential synergy in promoting cognitive well-being.

Expected to conclude by the end of 2023, the study is conducted by a collaborative team of researchers hailing from Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. Despite facing interruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the researchers have published data concerning their methodology and ongoing analyses in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, reflecting their dedication to advancing understanding in this field.

MedWalk Intervention for Cognitive Health

Originally designed to observe cognitive changes over a span of two years, the study's progress has been altered due to pandemic-related challenges. The timeline was adjusted to a one-year follow-up period, allowing researchers to recruit a more diverse array of participants. Despite these modifications, the researchers believe that this adjusted study design will yield robust findings.

"The primary outcome we're interested in is a 12-month change in visual memory and learning for participants," noted Dr. Sarah Johnson, the lead investigator of the study. Furthermore, researchers are keen on assessing the intervention's broader implications, encompassing mood, quality of life, healthcare costs, cardiovascular health, and arterial stiffness.

The study participants, aged between 60 and 90, are drawn from the Australian states of South Australia and Victoria. Originally, individuals were recruited from independent living retirement communities, and later, community recruitment was expanded due to pandemic-related limitations.

Special attention is devoted to exploring biomarkers linked to cognitive decline, such as glucose regulation, inflammation, nutrient levels, and oxidative stress. Participants were stratified into either the MedWalk intervention group or a control group adhering to their regular dietary and activity routines.

The MedWalk intervention involves a combination of dietary modifications alongside a supervised walking program, reinforced with psychosocial behavioural change techniques. During the initial six months, participants receive intensive support, with ongoing guidance available for the subsequent six months to ensure compliance.

Participants are educated on the distinctions between a Mediterranean diet and a typical Australian diet to foster a clear understanding of this way of eating. For instance, researchers provide essential components such as extra-virgin olive oil to underline its pivotal role in the Mediterranean diet.

After assessing baseline aerobic fitness, participants partake in group walking sessions during the first six months, followed by monthly sessions for the remaining duration of the study.

The Mediterranean Diet and Cognitive Health

Conner Middelmann, a certified nutritionist with expertise in the Mediterranean diet (though not associated with the ongoing study), underscored the importance of previous research, dating back to 2014 and 2023, which hinted at a reduced risk of dementia associated with a Mediterranean diet. Additional studies from 2015 and 2023 have highlighted its potential to lower the prevalence of Alzheimer's disease, the most prevalent form of dementia.

However, Middelmann emphasised that the risk of dementia is influenced by a plethora of factors, including genetics, lifestyle, and overall health. Thus, adopting a healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, should be regarded as just one facet of a comprehensive strategy for brain health and dementia prevention.

"The Mediterranean diet is rich in antioxidants that combat oxidative stress and inflammation, which are thought to be significant contributors to cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases," stated Middelmann.

Moreover, she highlighted the diet's abundant omega-3 fatty acids, particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and their vital role in brain health. "Omega-3s, in general, have been linked to improved cognitive function and a lower risk of cognitive decline," she added.

The Protective Role of Walking

Regular walking is similarly linked with the preservation of cognitive function, as per recent research. A 2022 study showed a dose-dependent relationship between the number of steps taken and a reduced risk of dementia, with those taking 10,000 daily steps experiencing a 50% reduction in dementia risk.

"Walking may improve brain health in one or more ways," noted brain health coach Ryan Glatt from the Pacific Neuroscience Institute (unrelated to the ongoing study). "Walking may increase brain blood flow, depending on the intensity, duration, and frequency of walking," he explained. In addition, it may "benefit levels of brain activity and may reduce feelings of overall stress while improving feelings of well-being."

The data collection phase of the ongoing study is slated for completion by the end of 2023, promising valuable insights into the intricate relationship between the Mediterranean diet, walking, and brain health.

Source: Medical News Today