Improving Heart Health Helps Stave Off Dementia and Alzheimer’s

For most people, perhaps the most troubling aspect of growing old is the fear of living out the last stage of life afflicted with dementia and Alzheimer’s, unable to recognize and interact with loved ones.  A staggering one in three people are predicted to develop dementia in the last part of their life.

Well, according to a new study by researchers at Cambridge University, about one third of all Alzheimer’s disease cases worldwide could be reduced through simple lifestyle changes that promote heart health.

What is good for the heart is good for the brain, according to the new study. The same simple lifestyle changes that can promote heart health, i.e. exercise, quitting smoking and a healthy diet, also play a significant role in boosting brain power and staving off problems with memory and thinking attributable to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The study was published in The Lancet Neurology.

The findings are significant because they are the first to quantify the combined impact of lifestyle factors influencing dementia and identify exercise as the most significant protection against the condition. This is important news for the 33% of people who are predicted to develop dementia in their lifetime.  (Alzheimer’s disease accounts for about 60 to 80 percent of those cases).

The landmark study suggests that the best thing you can do to beat the odds is to exercise regularly. Just one hour of exercise a week can reduce the chance of Alzheimer’s disease by almost half. The researchers identified seven modifiable lifestyle risk factors that lead to rising levels of dementia. They include: diabetes, midlife hypertension, midlife obesity, physical inactivity, depression, smoking, and low educational attainment.

The results were calculated using a decade of data obtained from the Health Survey for England 2006. Of those studied, participants who did not achieve three 20-minute bursts of vigorous exercise per week, such as jogging or football, or five 30-minute sessions of moderate activity, such as walking, were 82 percent more likely to go on to develop dementia. A previous YogaUOnline story shows that yoga and meditation also can slow the progression of dementia.

“Although there is no single way to prevent dementia, we may be able to take steps to reduce our risk of developing dementia at older ages,” lead author Professor Brayne, from the Cambridge Institute of Public Health at the University of Cambridge, said in an article in the UK Telegraph. “We know what many of these factors are, and that they are often linked.”

The study’s author added that: “Simply tackling physical inactivity, for example, will reduce levels of obesity, hypertension and diabetes, and prevent some people from developing dementia as well as a healthier old age in general – it’s a win-win situation.”

Though increasing physical activity and taking steps to decrease blood pressure, quitting smoking and eating healthy can prevent dementia and cases of Alzheimer’s in many cases, Dr. Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said in the Telegraph article, that further research is needed to “understand the mechanisms behind how these factors are related to the onset of Alzheimer’s.

“Although there is no single way to prevent dementia, we may be able to take steps to reduce our risk of developing dementia at older ages,” lead author Professor Brayne, from the Cambridge Institute of Public Health at the University of Cambridge, said in an article in the UK Telegraph. “We know what many of these factors are, and that they are often linked.”

The study’s author added that: “Simply tackling physical inactivity, for example, will reduce levels of obesity, hypertension and diabetes, and prevent some people from developing dementia as well as a healthier old age in general – it’s a win-win situation.”

Though increasing physical activity and taking steps to decrease blood pressure, quitting smoking and eating healthy can prevent dementia and cases of Alzheimer’s in many cases, Dr. Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said in the Telegraph article, that further research is needed to “understand the mechanisms behind how these factors are related to the onset of Alzheimer’s.”

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