Adopting seven healthy habits in middle age significantly reduces dementia risk, a study suggests.
Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, followed nearly 14,000 women in their 50s over two decades.
Participants were questioned about seven lifestyle factors associated with dementia and followed for a diagnosis of the disease. Separately, the seven factors reduced risk by about 6 percent.
Because dementia starts in the brain years before diagnosis, the scientists said it was likely that middle-aged habits influence patients’ risk.
The above image shows the seven healthy habits that may reduce the risk of dementia in middle age, according to a new study. The factors are being active (top left), eating a healthy diet (top center), following a healthy diet (top right), not smoking (inset), maintaining normal blood pressure (bottom left), controlling cholesterol levels (bottom center), and having a lower blood sugar (bottom right)
The seven factors are: being active, eating 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 at Brigham and Women’s Hospital who led the research, said: “It can empower people to know that taking measures such as exercising half an hour a day or controlling their blood pressure can reduce their risk of dementia.’
She added: ‘As we now know that dementia can start in the brain decades before diagnosis, it’s important that we learn more about how your middle-aged habits may affect your risk of dementia in old age.
“The good news is that making healthy lifestyle choices in middle age can lead to a reduced risk of dementia later in life.”
In the study, the scientists followed 13,720 women who had an average age of 54 at the start of the article.
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 mean score was 4.3 at the start of the study and 4.2 ten years 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 decreased by six percent.
Richard Oakley, associate director of research at the UK charity Alzheimer’s Society, who was not involved in the study, said: ‘While aging is the biggest risk factor in developing dementia, this research has again shown that there are things people can do do to reduce their risk.
“While several risk factors such as age and genetics are beyond our control, this preliminary study supports the existing evidence that lifestyle factors play a role in dementia risk.”
Women were recruited into the study between 1992 and 1994 and were followed up to the year 2018.
The study will be presented in April at the 75th Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in Boston.
Scientists have known for years that smoking, high blood sugar, high blood pressure and cholesterol levels increase a person’s risk of dementia.
All of these factors increase inflammation levels and impede blood flow to the brain.
A healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight can also be protective because they lower stress and inflammation levels, preventing a dangerous buildup of toxic chemicals in the brain.
The scientists did not take into account the impact of other lifestyle factors on the risk of dementia, such as sleeping less than the absolute minimum of seven hours per night.
Dementia rates are rising in the US, with estimates suggesting that the number of patients could rise from 7 to 12 million by 2040.
Scientists aren’t sure what’s causing the rise, but behind this could be people living longer, as well as more overweight and sedentary lifestyles.
The new study was supported by the US National Institutes of Health.
Dementia is an umbrella term for cognitive decline, with Alzheimer’s disease being the most common.
Scientists aren’t clear on the cause, but higher levels of inflammation and a buildup of proteins in the brain have been linked to the disease.
Last week, experts at University College London (UCL) said staying active into adulthood could help prevent dementia.
Their long-term study found that people who exercise as they age are more likely to have good brain health than those who start an activity for a shorter period of time but then give up.
But even starting exercise in your 60s is better than doing nothing at all to improve cognitive function, the study suggested.
In 2020, there were more than 55 million people with dementia worldwide.