Reducing the risk of dementia
Public Health England (PHE) reported over the weekend that while 52% of adults name dementia as one of their top three health worries, 28% of these have no awareness of any of the risks factors and only 2% are aware of all the things they can do to reduce the risk. So, I thought it might be helpful to pull together some of the pieces we have written recently that relate to practical steps you can take that can help with improving health and wellness, including helping to reduce the risk of developing dementia.
Awareness and actions to help reduce dementia risk
We know from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health (ALSWH) ageing is all about multiple morbidity: in the case of their oldest survivors, 17% have diabetes, 70% arthritis, 17% asthma, 40% heart disease, 70% hypertension and 12% stroke, with 29% suffering from dementia. However, what they found was the healthier you are as you age, specifically the higher your level of physical function, the slower your rate of decline. This is what else they found.
Of course, eating smart, exercising daily and sleeping sound each play a role in our wellness – and this is just as true for dementia risk reduction as our physical health.
Studies have shown evidence-based dietary patterns like the Mediterranean Diet, DASH Diet and MIND Diet, all largely plant-based meal plans, can help reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, dementia, high blood pressure and some types of cancer; it’s a case of both what you eat making a difference – and what you cut out to make room for healthier foods.
Regular exercise is recognised as a ‘miracle’ cure, or magic bullet for wellness so effective if it were a pill everyone would be prescribed it. Mounting evidence further suggests that the magic of exercise can boost brain function and protect against dementia. This intuitively makes sense as increased blood flow to the brain means more oxygen and nutrients in – and toxins out. So, it shouldn’t be too surprising that moderate cardio exercise performed regularly for at least 45 minutes a day can improve multiple cognitive functions, as does resistance training, while Tai chi can also improve memory.
But even for those exercising regularly there is more to be done – and for those not doing so, there is still something very simple you can do: sit less – especially for extended periods – and move more. Researchers into how sedentary behaviour influences brain health, especially regions of the brain that are critical to memory formation, have found that it is a significant predictor of thinning of the MTL, which can be a precursor to cognitive decline and dementia in middle-aged and older adults. Further, bursts of physical activity, even at high levels, is insufficient to offset the harmful effects of sitting for extended periods. How to avoid sitting comfortably for too long.
Many researchers believe that getting enough sleep is quite simply the difference between life or early death. More than 20 large-scale epidemiological studies reported the same clear relationship: the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life. With a higher risk of Alzheimer’s another factor, it is no surprise that ensuring a good night’s sleep should be a priority for mental as well as physical health, this is why and how to get a good night’s sleep.
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