Seven healthy habits and lifestyle factors may play a role in reducing dementia risk, according to a two-decade study.
Being active, eating a better diet, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, maintaining normal blood pressure, controlling cholesterol, and having low blood sugar in midlife can reduce the chances of developing conditions such as heart disease. Alzheimer’s later in life, research suggests.
The preliminary findings, from a study that followed thousands of American women for about 20 years, are presented in the Annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in Boston.
“Since we now know that dementia can begin in the brain decades before diagnosis, it is important that we learn more about how your habits in midlife may affect your risk of dementia in later life,” said Pamela Rist, an associate epidemiologist at the division of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and a member of the American Academy of Neurology.
“The good news is that healthy lifestyle choices in midlife can reduce the risk of dementia later in life.”
Dementia is one of the biggest health threats in the world. The number of people living with the condition globally is forecast to nearly triple to 153 million by 2050, and experts have said it poses a major and fast-growing threat to future health and social care systems in all communities, countries and continents.
The US study echoes similar findings from Chinese researchers who last month said that a combination of healthy lifestyle choices, such as eating right, exercising regularly, playing cards and socializing at least two times a week, it might help slow the rate of memory decline and reduce the risk of dementia. .
The US study involved 13,720 women aged 54 on average at the start of the research.
After more than two decades of follow-up, the researchers examined health data to identify people diagnosed with dementia. A total of 1,771 women, or 13% of those in the study, developed the condition.
For each of the seven health factors, people were given a score of zero for poor or “intermediate” health, and one point for ideal health, leading to a total possible score of seven. The mean score was 4.3 at the start of the study and 4.2 a decade later.
After adjusting for factors such as age and education, the researchers found that for every one point increase in the score, a person’s risk of dementia fell by 6 percent.
“It can be empowering for people to know that by taking steps like exercising for half an hour a day or keeping their blood pressure under control, they can reduce their risk of dementia,” Rist said.
The US researchers cautioned that there were limitations to their study, including the fact that they were unable to look at how factors such as quitting smoking influenced dementia risk later in life.
Susan Mitchell, head of policy at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said the study added to overwhelming evidence that by staying active and eating healthy in midlife, people could reduce their chances of dementia in later life.
“Beyond being active and taking care of our hearts, getting a good night’s sleep, challenging our brains and staying connected to the people around us can help reduce our chances of developing dementia,” he added.