Seven healthy habits and lifestyle changes may help cut the risk of dementia, a study suggests.
The study followed 13,720 women with an average age of 54 at the start of the research.
After 20 years of follow-up, researchers looked at US health data and identified that 1,771 of the women – or 13% – had developed dementia.
What can reduce the chance of developing dementia?
Researchers found that being active, consuming a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, keeping blood pressure at a normal level, controlling cholesterol and having low blood sugar were some of the factors that could help lower the chances.
For each of the seven health factors, the participants 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 average score was 4.3 at the start of the study and 10 years later had fallen to 4.2.
Researchers found that after adjusting for factors such as age and education, for each increase of one point in the score, a person’s risk of dementia fell by 6%.
“Since we now know that dementia can begin in the brain decades before diagnosis, it’s important that we learn more about how your habits in middle age can affect your risk of dementia in old age,” Pamela Rist, an assistant professor from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said.
“The good news is that making healthy lifestyle choices in middle age may lead to a decreased risk of dementia later in life.”
What is dementia?
The NHS describes dementia as symptoms that are associated with the decline of brain function.
Some of the symptoms include memory loss, trouble with speech, mood, movement and difficulties with everyday activities.
Ms Rist said that it can be empowering to know that exercising and keeping blood pressure under control can ultimately “reduce the risk of dementia”.
What is frontotemporal dementia, the condition Bruce Willis has been diagnosed with?
Do you know the six risk factors for dementia?
How common is Alzheimer’s disease?
The study, however, did have limitations as researchers were unable to assess whether quitting smoking influenced the risk of dementia later in life.
‘Beyond being active’
Alzheimer’s Research UK spokesperson Susan Mitchell said the study carries “overwhelming evidence” that staying active and eating healthy can reduce dementia in middle-aged women.
“Beyond being active and looking after our heart, getting a good night’s sleep, challenging our brains and keeping connected to the people around us can all help reduce our chances of developing dementia,” she said.
The study was supported by the US National Institutes of Health.