Seven healthy habits and lifestyle characteristics may help reduce the incidence of dementia, according to recent research that followed female participants for 20 years. The American Heart Association’s “Life’s Easy 7” determinants for cardiovascular and brain health include:
- Staying active
- Eating healthier
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Quitting smoking
- Maintaining healthy blood pressure
- Reducing cholesterol
- Maintaining low blood sugar
“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,” said Pamela Rist, ScD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, and a member of the American Academy of Neurology. “The good news is that making healthy lifestyle choices in middle age may lead to a decreased risk of dementia later in life.”
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The study involved 13,720 female participants with an average age of 54 at the start of the study. After 20 years of follow-up, researchers looked at Medicare data to identify those diagnosed with dementia. Of the participants, 1,771, or 13%, developed dementia. For each of the seven health factors, participants were given a score of zero for poor or intermediate health and one point for ideal health, for a total possible score of 7. The average score was 4.3 at the start of the study and 4.2 10 years later. After adjusting for factors like age and education, researchers found that for every increase of one point in the score, a participant’s risk of dementia decreased by 6%.
“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,” Rist added. A limitation of the study was that researchers could not look at how changes in factors such as quitting smoking influenced the risk of dementia later in life.