The risk of developing dementia doubles every five years after age 65, until by age 85 almost 50 percent of North Americans suffer some degree of dementia. Finnish researchers showed that they were able to slow the onset of dementia in people at high risk with a program that included:
- a healthful lifestyle aimed at preventing heart attacks,
- heart-attack risk monitoring, and
- exercises to improve memory (Lancet, March 11, 2015).
Everything that helps to prevent heart attacks also helps protect you from losing your mind. Three other studies show that:
2) eating a healthful diet
3) avoiding becoming overweight
4) avoiding smoking, and
5) avoiding alcohol are all associated with lowered risk for dementia.
Of these five healthful lifestyle components, exercise had the greatest effect on preserving memory and thinking. For those who have already lost their ability to think and remember, exercise improves memory and helps them stay independent longer (The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 2014;22(1):63–74). Lifestyle changes do not cure dementia, but they improve symptoms and delay progression.
Researchers followed 2,235 Welsh men, 40 to 60 years old, for 25 years and found that men who followed four out of five of the healthful behaviors listed above were 60 percent less likely to suffer dementia and Alzheimer’s than those who followed none (The Caerphilly Cohort Study. PLoS One, Dec. 9, 2013).
These five lifestyle factors are also known to both prevent and treat diabetes, heart disease and stroke, which all increase your chances of losing mental function. No drugs or other medical treatments available today are as effective in preventing dementia as following these five lifestyle habits.
A Healthful Lifestyle Treats Dementia
Researchers analyzed 14 studies on people with dementia, living both at home and in nursing homes, and found that exercise improves both memory and reasoning as well as improving function in walking and getting up from a chair. It did not improve depression (Cochrane, Dementia and Cognitive Improvement Group, Dec. 4, 2013).
Recommendations for Everyone
Dementia affects 3.4 million North Americans, or 14 percent of the population aged 71 and older. The rate of dementia increases from five percent of people 71–79 years old to 37.4 percent of those aged 90 and older (Neuroepidemiology, Nov 2007; 29(1-2): 125–132).
- Try to ride your bike for more than an hour a day. Exercising intensely three times a week and less intensely on the other four days can be even more beneficial. Even though exercising intensely increases your chances of injuring yourself, try to pick up the pace two or three times a week.
- Reduce your intake of red meat, sugared drinks, sugar-added foods, and fried foods. Eat huge amounts of fruits and vegetables.
- Avoid being overweight.
- Avoid smoking.
- Avoid taking more than one alcoholic drink a day.
- Avoid vitamin D deficiency. Try to get your hydroxy vitamin D level above 75 nmol/L.
- Grow muscle, and reduce body fat.
Gabe Mirkin, M.D., is a sports medicine doctor and fitness guru. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin has run more than 40 marathons and is now a serious tandem bike rider with his wife, Diana. His website is http://drmirkin.com/. Click to read Gabe’s full bio.