Can Lifestyle Changes Prevent Cognitive Decline?

According to a two-year study, healthy eating, brain training, exercise and sound medical management may prevent age-related cognitive decline and, perhaps, dementia. The study sampled 1,260 people, aged 60-77, randomly assigning one group to receive some general health advice and another group to follow a special program. The advice and training given to participants in the special program included:


Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, wholegrain cereals, low-fat milk and meat products. Participants were also told to eat less than 50 grams of sugar a day and have at least two portions of fish a week.

Cognitive training

Participants received computer brain training sessions and were advised to improve mental acuity by doing puzzles, reading and other activities requiring cognition.


Participants were told to do strength training one to three times a week and aerobic exercise two to five times a week. The exercise advice was tailored to the individual—some participants were able to do more, others less.

Medical management

Blood pressure was checked, along with weight and body mass index. Based on this data, participants were given additional recommendations for potential lifestyle changes.

The study found that after two years, those who had received the special program scored 25 percent higher on a neuropsychological test. In addition, on a test of processing speed, the special program group did 150 percent better.

On a measure of executive functioning — which controls memory, reasoning and problem solving — the special program group had scores 83% higher.

According to Professor Miia Kivipelto, who led the research, “Much previous research has shown that there are links between cognitive decline in older people and factors such as diet, heart health, and fitness. However, our study is the first large, randomized controlled trial to show that an intensive program aimed at addressing these risk factors might be able to prevent cognitive decline in elderly people who are at risk of dementia.”

The study will continue for at least another seven years to look at whether the special program can reduce or even prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s diagnoses. To learn more about the study, visit

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