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Save Your Brain Cells With Aerobics and the MIND Diet

Study shows postmenopausal women may maintain cognitive health with this plan.

Key points

  • Both the MIND diet and aerobic exercise are known to maintain and improve the health of brain cells.
  • Diet and exercise promote brain health in different ways.
  • The combination of a healthy diet and aerobic exercise is more successful at preserving brain health than diet alone.
You may be able to delay or prevent symptoms of dementia.
Source: pasja1000/Pixabay

The MIND Diet, an offshoot of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension) diets, was designed to preserve cognition and decrease the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease in older men and women. While all three are considered top overall diets, MIND, which stands for Mediterranean–DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay, is a plant-based (but not vegetarian) diet that regularly includes foods in your diet that are known to promote brain health. These foods include whole grains, leafy greens and other vegetables, blueberries and other berries, nuts, legumes (dried beans), fish, olive oil, and, optionally, a glass of wine.

Age-Related Hormone Decline and Cognitive Disorders

Scientists have long known that there is a link between age-related decline in production of the sex hormones estrogen and testosterone and the risk of developing cognitive disorders, such as memory disturbances and problems performing daily life activities. They know that moderate-to-intense exercise improves brain systems at a cellular level, protecting against brain diseases, promoting cell recovery after injury, and decreasing symptoms of depression and memory disorders. Since its development in 2015, researchers have shown that the MIND diet helps regulate normal brain cell function and protect brain tissue from inflammation. This protection comes, in great part, from the array of phytochemicals (substances that exist only in plants that are known to protect health and prevent diseases) found in fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices.

Diet Plus Exercise vs. Diet Alone

Now, researchers at Cairo University have shown that the combination of the MIND eating style and thrice-weekly aerobic exercise can substitute for the diminishing level of sex hormones that leads to cognitive difficulties in postmenopausal women. Their study, which included 60 postmenopausal women ages 60 to 75, compared the results of an experimental group that followed the MIND diet plan and exercised at moderate intensity three times a week and a control group that did not exercise but simply followed the MIND diet.

After a 10-minute warm-up, each participant in the experimental group walked on a treadmill for 40 minutes to reach 60-percent maximum heart rate (MHR) for the first six weeks of the study, increasing to 70-percent MHR for the final six weeks of the study. Each participant in both groups followed a personalized, reduced-calorie MIND-based diet and met with a dietitian twice a week. The diet included daily servings of one salad, other vegetables, one serving of nuts, and three servings of whole grains. Weekly, it also included at least two servings of berries, three to four servings of beans, at least two servings of poultry, and one or more servings of fish. The study participants were instructed to use olive oil and have no more than 1 tablespoon of butter each day. They were told to never eat margarine, fried foods, or fast foods, and to rarely eat red meat.

Study Findings

A poststudy assessment of both groups after 12 weeks found no significant differences in levels of sex hormones between the experimental and control groups. Interestingly, however, more highly significant positive changes in cognitive functions were displayed in the experimental group than in the control group, indicating that the combination of aerobic exercise and a calorie-controlled MIND diet plan improves cognition in spite of the loss of sex hormones in postmenopausal women.

The researchers acknowledge that the study participants in this case were limited in diversity to women with low education levels and no sign of heart disease or other medical problems. They recommend that larger-sale studies be performed with more demographic variabilities to show the effects of adherence to specific diet and exercise recommendations on different populations of women, including those with common postmenopausal medical conditions, such as breast cancer and cardiovascular disease.


Elsayed MM, Rabiee A, Refaye GE, Elsie HF. Aerobic exercise with Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay Diet Promotes Brain Cells’ Longevity despite Sex Hormone Deficiency in Postmenopausal Wome: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity. Published online April 4, 2022; dot: 10.1155/2022/4146742