It has been named the world’s best weight loss diet, but now researchers at the University of South Australia are confident that the Mediterranean diet – combined with daily exercise – can also ward off dementia and slow the decline in brain function that is commonly associated with old age.

In the world’s first study, starting this week, researchers from the University of South Australia and Swinburne University, along with a consortium of partners *, will examine the health benefits of older people who adhere to a Mediterranean diet while taking daily walks.

Called the MedWalk Study, the two-year, $ 1.8 million NHMRC-funded study will target 364 senior Australians – aged 60 to 90, who live independently in a residential community and with no cognitive impairment – in 28 residential locations in South Australia and Recruit Victoria.

It’s a recent study, especially given Australia’s aging population, where around a quarter of all Australians will be over 65 by 2050.

UniSA lead researcher, Associate Professor Karen Murphy, says combining the nutritional benefits of the Mediterranean diet with the health benefits of exercise intervention could yield significant benefits.

“Dementia is a condition that affects a person’s thinking, behavior, and ability to perform everyday tasks. While it’s more common in older Australians, it’s not a normal part of aging, ”says Assoc Prof. Murphy.

“Around 472,000 people live with dementia in Australia. It costs the economy more than $ 14 billion each year, which is projected to grow to more than $ 1 trillion over the next 40 years.

“While there is currently no prevention or cure for dementia, there is a growing consensus that a focus on risk reduction can have positive results. This is where our study comes in.

“Early pilots of our MedWalk intervention demonstrated improved memory and thinking in a subset of older participants who followed a combination of a Mediterranean diet and daily walking for six months.

“We are now expanding this study to a wider group of older Australians and using carefully designed behavior modification and maintenance strategies in hopes of significantly reducing the incidence of dementia across Australia.”

A Mediterranean diet is high in fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and fish, while low in saturated fats, red meat, and alcohol.

The 24-month study randomly assigns residences to the MedWalk intervention or their usual lifestyle (the control group) so that all participants who live in a facility are in the same group. Diet changes and walking are supported by organized and regular motivational, diet and exercise sessions.

Professor Andrew Pipingas, head of neurocognitive aging research at the Center for Human Psychopharmacology in Swinburne and lead investigator, says this study is about preventing dementia from occurring.

“Since it is extremely difficult to find a cure and treat people in the later stages of the disease, our focus is on helping people at risk of dementia stay healthy to ensure that Australians continue to do so in the future goes well.”

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Notes for editors:

  • May is National Month of the Mediterranean Diet
  • The full list of partners involved in this study are: Swinburne University; University of South Australia; Deakin University; La Trobe University; RMIT University; Murdoch University; University of Sheffield Hallam, UK; University of East Anglia, UK; University College Cork, Ireland.

Media contact: Annabel Mansfield T: +61 8 8302 0351 M: +61 417 717 504
E: [email protected]

Researcher: UniSA: Associate Professor Karen Murphy T: +61 8 8302 1033
E: [email protected]

Swinburne: Professor Andrew Pipingas T: +61 3 9214 5215 E: [email protected]

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