Harvard Mental Health Letter

Commentary: The Mediterranean diet, physical activity, and cognitive health

Commentary

The Mediterranean diet, physical activity, and cognitive health

Last month, I visited my neighbor who was having some stone work done outside his home. The leader of the crew doing the work was a lively, muscular, good-natured fellow with a strong Italian accent, whom I took to be in his mid-fifties, if that old. In fact, he was approaching 70. He volunteered his approach to life: a full day of hard physical effort followed by a good Italian meal, a little red wine, and then to sleep like a baby.

About the same time as this encounter occurred, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a pair of articles providing scientific support for the stone worker's philosophy of healthy living. Continuing their 2006 study of 1,880 New York City residents, Dr. Nikolaos Scarmeas and colleagues at Columbia University demonstrated that both a Mediterranean-type diet and physical activity could reduce the incidence of Alzheimer's disease.

In a related study of about 1,400 older French adults, Dr. Catherine Féart and colleagues at the University of Bordeaux showed that people adhering most closely to a Mediterranean-type diet had relatively slower decline in cognitive functioning as measured by the mini-mental status exam (MMSE).

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