Adopting seven healthy habits in middle age significantly slash the risk of dementia, a study suggests.
Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, tracked nearly 14,000 women in their 50s for two decades.
Participants were surveyed on seven lifestyle factors linked to dementia and monitored for a diagnosis of the disease. Individually, the seven factors reduced the risk by around 6 percent.
Because dementia begins in the brain years before diagnosis, the scientists said it was likely that habits in middle age affect patients’ risk.
The above graphic shows the seven healthy habits that may cut the risk of dementia in middle age according to a new study. The factors are being active (top left), a healthy diet (top center), maintaining a healthy diet (top right), not smoking (inset), maintaining normal blood pressure (bottom left), controlling cholesterol levels (bottom center) and having lower blood sugar levels (bottom right)
The seven factors are: Being active, having a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, having normal blood pressure, controlling cholesterol levels and having lower blood sugar levels.
Dr Pamela Rist, an assistant professor from Brigham and Women’s Hospital who led the research, said: ‘It can be empowering for people to know that by taking steps such as exercising for half an hour a day or keeping their blood pressure under control, they can reduce their risk of dementia.’
She added: ‘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.
‘The good news is that making healthy lifestyle choices in middle age may lead to a decreased risk of dementia later in life.’
In the study, the scientists tracked 13,720 women who were aged 54 on average at the start of the paper.
After two decades, 1,771 participants — or 13 percent — had developed dementia.
For each of the seven health factors, people were given a score of zero and one, leading to a total possible score of seven.
The average 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, researchers found that for every increase of one point in the score, a person’s risk of dementia fell by six percent.
Richard Oakley, associate director of research at UK-based charity Alzheimer’s Society, who wasn’t involved in the study, said: ‘Although getting older is the biggest risk factor in developing dementia, this research has shown once again that there are things that people can do to lower their risk.
‘While several risk factors like age and genetics are outside of our control, this preliminary study supports existing evidence that lifestyle factors play a role in dementia risk.’
Women were recruited for the study between 1992 and 1994 and were tracked up to the year 2018.
The study is due to be presented in April at the American Academy of Neurology’s 75th annual meeting to be held in Boston.
Scientists have known for years that smoking, having high blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels raise someone’s risk of dementia.
All of these factors raise inflammation levels and hamper blood flow to the brain.
A healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight can also be protective because they lower stress and inflammation levels, helping to avoid a dangerous build-up of toxic chemicals in the brain.
The scientists did not consider the impact of other lifestyle factors on dementia risk, such as getting less than the bare minimum of seven hours sleep a night.
Dementia rates are surging in the US, with estimates suggesting the number of patients could jump from 7 to 12million by 2040.
Scientists are not sure what is driving the rise, but behind this could be people living longer as well as higher rates of obesity and sedentary lifestyles.
The new study was supported by the US National Institutes of Health.
Dementia is umbrella term for cognitive decline, with Alzheimer’s disease being the most common form.
Scientists are not clear on the cause, but higher levels of inflammation and a build-up of proteins in the brain have been linked to the disease.
Last week, experts from University College London (UCL) said that staying active throughout adulthood could help stave off dementia.
Their long-term study found that people who exercise as they age are more likely to have good brain health than those who take up an activity for shorter periods of time but then give it up.
However, even taking up exercise in your 60s is better than doing nothing at all for improving cognitive function, the research suggested.
There were more than 55 million people worldwide living with dementia in 2020.