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High salt, low exercise are bad for the brain, not just the body

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High salt, low exercise are bad for the brain, not just the body

Research has shown consuming too much salt and being inactive leads to heart disease, but now a new study shows the same combination also can be bad for brain health.

Canadian researchers studied the salt intake and physical activity levels of 1,262 healthy men and women ages 67 to 84 over three years and found those with the highest levels of sodium (3,091 milligrams a day and greater) and the lowest levels of exercise tended to show poorer cognitive performance than those with a low sodium intake and an active lifestyle. The findings were published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging.

“These findings are important because they help people know they can be proactive in retaining healthy brains as they age,” says Carol Greenwood, one of the study’s lead researchers and a professor at the Baycrest Center for Geriatric Care at the University of Toronto. “Baby Boomers especially need to know that sitting on the couch watching television for long periods of time and eating salty snacks is not good for them.”

Four million to 5 million adults in the USA have some form of dementia, and those numbers are expected to soar as Baby Boomers grow older.

Among other findings: Sedentary older adults showed no cognitive decline over the three years if they had low sodium intake.

One teaspoon of salt is equal to 2,000 milligrams. In the study, low and medium sodium intake were defined as not exceeding 2,263 and 3,090 milligrams respectively.

“This is one of the first studies that looks at sodium,” says Deborah Barnes, a dementia expert at the University of California-San Francisco, who was not associated with the study. “It’s another important point about diet. You need to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and stay away from processed foods.”

Hold the salt

Daily recommended sodium limits: 2,300 milligrams or less for many people; 1,500 milligrams or less for people who are 51 and older and those of any age who are African American or have hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease.


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