The brain impact of New Year's Resolutions

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- As we usher in 2019, many of us are working on our New Year's Resolutions. Some of the most popular resolutions are to start a new diet or exercise regimen. We all know that diet and exercise can help improve your heart health, but how do they impact brain health? Tyler sat down with Dr.. Alicia Arnold to talk about a new study shedding new light on ways to improve our thinking skills.

Let's start with who this research may be able to help.

Dr. Alicia Arnold, "This study in the journal Neurology looked at adults who had cardiovascular risk factors such high blood pressure, who did not do any regular exercise, and who were showing signs of cognitive problems like difficulty with remembering or concentrating. The researchers wanted to see what kind of lifestyle changes these folks could make to improve their brain health and functioning."

What kind of changes did they ask people to make?

Dr. Alicia Arnold, "They split these people into four groups. One group added cardiovascular exercise, one group switched to the DASH diet which is high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and low in salt and fatty foods, one group added exercise and improved their diet, and the final group received some limited health education but wasn't specifically asked to change their diet or exercise routine."

So where was the biggest bang for people's buck? Did diet or exercise seem to make the most difference?

Dr. Alicia Arnold, "Adding in aerobic exercise made a bigger impact than just making a healthier change to your diet alone. And participants in the diet and exercise group showed an even greater improvement in their brain function."

What kind of timeline are we talking about?

Dr. Alicia Arnold, "That is one of the exciting parts. Improvements in thinking skills were seen in just 6 months. Sometimes patients feel like new interventions will take a really long time to have an impact, but these findings show that just a few months of exercise a few times a week can make a big difference in helping people improve thinking skills that may be able to increase their independence and quality of life."

What do you think is the takeaway from this study?

Dr. Alicia Arnold, "We've known for a long time that exercise is important for the health of your body and your heart, but this study shows that exercise is very important for the health of your brain as well. Something as simple as walking or cycling several times a week could make a big impact on our ability to think and concentrate."