Could this be the secret to staying younger for longer?
Age UK says keeping active in older age could help reduce the chance of early onset dementia. An ageing population is leading to a growing number of people living with dementia. Dementia is an umbrella term for a group of symptoms including memory impairment, confusion, and loss of ability to carry out everyday activities.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and causes a progressive decline in brain health. The main risk factor for dementia is older age. Around 30% of people aged over 85 live with dementia. Genetic influences also play a role in the onset of the disease, but these are stronger for rarer types of dementia such as early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Although we can’t change our age or genetic profile, there are nevertheless several lifestyle changes we can make that will reduce our dementia risk.
Five things you can do to reduce the risk of dementia
1. Engage in mentally stimulating activities
Education is an important determinant of dementia risk. Having less than ten years of formal education can increase the chances of developing dementia. People who don’t complete any secondary school have the greatest risk.
The good news is that we can still strengthen our brain at any age, through workplace achievement and leisure activities such as reading newspapers, playing card games, or learning a new language or skill.
2. Maintain social contact
More frequent social contact (such as visiting friends and relatives or talking on the phone) has been linked to lower risk of dementia, while loneliness may increase it.
Greater involvement in group or community activities is associated with a lower risk. Interestingly, size of friendship group appears less relevant than having regular contact with others.
3. Manage weight and heart health
There is a strong link between heart and brain health. High blood pressure and obesity, particularly during mid-life, increase the risk of dementia. Combined, these conditions may contribute to more than 12% of dementia cases. Managing or reversing these conditions through the use of medication and/or diet and exercise is crucial to reducing dementia risk.
4. Get more exercise
Physical activity has been shown to protect against cognitive decline. In data combined from more than 33,000 people, those who were highly physically active had a 38% lower risk of cognitive decline compared with those who were inactive.
Precisely how much exercise is enough to maintain cognition is still under debate. But a recent review of studies looking at the effects of taking exercise for a minimum of four weeks suggested that sessions should last at least 45 minutes and be of moderate to high intensity. This means huffing and puffing and finding it difficult to maintain a conversation.
5. Don’t smoke
Cigarette smoking is harmful to heart health, and the chemicals found in cigarettes trigger inflammation and vascular changes in the brain. They can also trigger oxidative stress, in which chemicals called free radicals can cause damage to our cells. These processes may contribute to the development of dementia. As dementia risk is higher in current smokers compared with past smokers and non-smokers, this provides yet another incentive to quit once and for all.