A new study has identified key lifestyle changes that can reduce the risk of developing serious illnesses later in life, including cutting dementia risk.
The 35 year study of 2,235 men aged 45-59 at the start of the study, which was conducted by scientists at Cardiff University in Wales, UK, identified the following five key lifestyle factors that can cut dementia risk by as much as two thirds:
• Taking regular exercise, which is defined as 30 minutes, 5 days a week and enough to break a sweat
• Not smoking
• Maintaining a healthy body weight (using normal BMI as an indicator)
• A healthy diet, which is defined as eating five or more servings of fruit and vegetables a day and getting less than 30% of total calories from fat
• A low alcohol intake, which is defined as three units of alcohol per day or less
• One factor stood out above the rest for its power to cut health risks, though: exercise.
The researchers found that people who consistently followed four out of five or all five of the behaviors cut their risk of dementia and cognitive decline significantly and by as much as 60%. What’s more, when compared to people who followed none of the above recommendations, they also cut their risk of a number of other diseases including diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
Principle Investigator Professor Peter Elwood from Cardiff University’s School of Medicine said “What the research shows is that following a healthy lifestyle confers surprisingly large benefits to health, healthy behaviors have a far more beneficial effect than any medical treatment or preventative procedure.”
However, Professor Elwood has warned that despite the fact none of the above are particularly new recommendations, few people are choosing to follow all five of the healthy behaviors.
“Taking up and following a healthy lifestyle is however the responsibility of the individual him or herself. Sadly, the evidence from this study shows that very few people follow a fully healthy lifestyle. Furthermore, our findings reveal that while the number of people who smoke has gone down since the study started, the number of people leading a fully healthy lifestyle has not changed.”
There were a few surprises in the study. Chief among them was that the only factor that meaningfully impacted cancer rates wasn’t exercise or a healthy diet. It was not smoking. That might be a bit of a downer for people who don’t smoke and wanted to cut their cancer risk further. Other studies have shown that exercise and healthy eating can contribute to reducing certain cancer rates, so this finding does not necessarily mean that such efforts are meaningless.
This research does have a number of limitations as it didn’t account for socioeconomic status or marital status. These are limitations the study’s authors recognize and accept, but they say their findings still have merit and contribute to the consensus of medical advice that supports the healthy lifestyle factors they have identified.