Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, and in Canada said the study is among the first to examine the combined effects of such interventions, which suggests diet and mental exercise may work more effectively in combination than by themselves.
During a two-year study, the researchers found that older beagles performed better on cognitive tests and were more likely to learn new tasks when they were fed a diet fortified with plenty of fruits, vegetables and vitamins, were exercised at least twice weekly, and were given the opportunity to play with other dogs and a variety of stimulating toys.
Dogs are an important model of cognitive aging, they said, adding that the findings could have important implications for people. Like humans, dogs engage in complex cognitive strategies and have a more complicated brain structure than many other animals.
Dogs also process dietary nutrients in ways similar to humans and like people, dogs are susceptible to age-related declines in learning and memory, and can develop a condition similar to Alzheimer's disease.