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Changes in brain function and connectivity often occur many years before the clinical manifestation of cognitive impairment and dementia. A new study shows that lifestyle modifications, including exercise, vitamin D intake, and cognitive training, improve functional brain connectivity in older adults with mild cognitive impairment.

The study involved 120 older adults (ages 60 to 80 years) with mild cognitive impairment. The participants engaged in 30 minutes of cognitive training and 60 minutes of exercise three times a week for 20 weeks. Thirty-eight of the participants received vitamin D supplements, while the remainder received a placebo. Researchers measured the participants' functional brain connectivity using MRI before and after the interventions.

They found that physical exercise alone, exercise combined with cognitive training, or exercise combined with both cognitive training and vitamin D supplementation increased functional brain connectivity in regions of the brain’s default mode network, including the hippocampus and angular gyrus.

The default mode network is a collection of interconnected neural structures involved in attention and focus. Disturbances in default mode network connectivity are associated with poor working memory, reduced performance, and work-related productivity losses.

This study’s findings suggest that lifestyle behaviors, particularly exercise, enhance functional brain connectivity, potentially staving off age-associated cognitive decline. Learn more about the effects of exercise on the brain in this episode featuring Dr. Axel Montagne.

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