Exercising and quitting smoking in middle age to boost heart health lowers the risk of dementia, study claims
- A healthy diet and not smoking benefits brain health in old age, a study claims
- The study looked at people as part of a long-term study started in 1972 in Finland
- Study found biological hallmarks of dementia might overlap with ‘ideal’ scores
A healthy heart in middle age lowers the risk of developing dementia in later years, a new study has claimed.
People who quit smoking, enjoyed a healthy diet and exercised in midlife all boosted their chances of avoiding the incurable condition.
The study looked at nearly 1,500 people as part of a long-term study started in 1972 in Finland.
People who quit smoking, enjoyed a healthy diet and exercised in midlife all boosted their chances of avoiding the incurable condition (file image)
It confirmed scientifically previous theories that modifiable behaviour such as diet and smoking can benefit brain health in old age.
Lead author of the study published in the journal PLOS Medicine, Yajun Liang said: ‘Maintaining life-long health behaviours may be crucial to reduce late-life risk of dementia.
‘Very few studies have explored the patterns of cardiovascular health (CVH) metrics in midlife and late life in relation to risk of dementia.
‘We examined the associations of composite CVH metrics from midlife to late life with risk of incident dementia.’
The participants’ heart health was evaluated from midlife to late life according to six factors classified as three behavioural including smoking status (file image)
What is dementia?
Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of progressive neurological disorders, that is, conditions affecting the brain.
There are many different types of dementia, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most common.
Some people may have a combination of types of dementia.
Regardless of which type is diagnosed, each person will experience their dementia in their own unique way.
Dementia is a global concern but it is most often seen in wealthier countries, where people are likely to live into very old age.
HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE AFFECTED?
The Alzheimer’s Society reports there are more than 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK today, of which more than 500,000 have Alzheimer’s.
It is estimated that the number of people living with dementia in the UK by 2025 will rise to over 1 million.
In the US, it’s estimated there are 5.5 million Alzheimer’s sufferers. A similar percentage rise is expected in the coming years.
As a person’s age increases, so does the risk of them developing dementia.
Rates of diagnosis are improving but many people with dementia are thought to still be undiagnosed.
IS THERE A CURE?
Currently there is no cure for dementia.
But new drugs can slow down its progression and the earlier it is spotted the more effective treatments are.
Source: Dementia UK
Mr Liang, an assistant professor in the Epidemiology and Public Health Intervention Research at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, added: ‘In this study, we observed that having the ideal CVH metrics, and ideal behavioural CVH metrics in particular, from midlife onwards is associated with a reduced risk of dementia as compared with people having poor CVH metrics.’
Meanwhile previous research has suggested that global dementia numbers could be cut by a third if modifiable risks were eliminated.
Until the current study there was a lack of evidence on potential links between risk of late-life dementia and scores on standard heart health metrics in midlife and late life.
The team analysed data on 1,449 participants in the Finnish Cardiovascular Risk Factors, Ageing and Dementia study, enrolled 1972¬-1987 and assessed in 1998.
A further 744 dementia-free survivors were followed further into late life (2005¬-2008).
The participants’ heart health was evaluated from midlife to late life according to six factors classified as three behavioural (smoking status, physical activity, and body mass index) and three biological factors (fasting plasma glucose, total cholesterol, and blood pressure).
Dementia was diagnosed in 61 persons in the first follow up and additional 47 persons in the second.
The researchers found that participants with intermediate or ideal cardiovascular health scores from midlife onwards, especially for behavioural factors, had a lower risk of dementia later in life than participants with poor scores.
The researchers found no significant overall association between heart health scores measured in late life and risk of dementia.
However, when looking specifically at biological factors, ideal scores in late life were actually associated with greater risk of dementia.
The authors noted that this could be because some biological hallmarks of dementia might overlap with ‘ideal’ scores on these factors, such as lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol.
They also note that the major limitations of this study include the lack of data on diet and midlife plasma glucose, and high rate of attrition.
These findings suggest that maintaining lifelong cardiovascular health, particularly in the areas of smoking, exercise, and body mass index, could reduce dementia risk later in life.