Good nutrition directly linked to physical and cognitive performance, study finds

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A new study by researchers at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Abbott, and the U.S. Air Force Research Lab found a direct link between physical fitness, cognitive performance, and optimal nutrition. The findings were published in the journal Scientific Reports.

The double-blind study examined the effectiveness of optimal nutrition and exercise to enhance fitness and cognitive performance among a population of active-duty men and women in the U.S. Air Force. Researchers divided the 148 study participants into two groups for 12 weeks. Both groups performed the same training program, which included a balanced exercise program comprised of aerobic and resistance training performed five days per week. In addition to the training program, one group was given a prototype nutritional drink, the other group received a placebo.

The study showed that exercise, along with the addition of a high-protein nutrition drink containing lutein, omega-3 fatty acids, phospholipids, vitamin D, and beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (HMB), led to statistically significant changes to the following compared to exercise alone, according to the study.

The study also found improved working memory by 11 percent (i.e., information processing and problem-solving), which predicts multitasking and is often impaired under stress), improved reaction time by 6 percent participants became faster and more accurate, increased muscle mass by more than two pounds, and lowered resting heart rate by 8 percent. Resting heart rate improved from 71 beats per minute to 65 beats per minute, the study said.

“The physical and mental health benefits of exercise are well known, but this study demonstrates how optimal nutrition can help boost brain function as well," said Chris Zwilling, Ph.D, lead study author, in a statement. "We are excited by the results because they provide critical insights into how simple dietary changes can make a big difference in helping people be as efficient and productive as possible in today's world.”