Adopting six simple lifestyle habits could significantly reduce your risk of dementia, scientists have said.
Dementia affects over 5 million American adults over the age of 65, according to 2014 data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The condition comes in different forms—the most common of which is Alzheimer's disease—and is characterized by an impaired ability to remember, think and make decisions.
The condition occurs when cells in the brain and the connections between stop working properly. And this can result from a combination of factors. Certain genetic variants may increase our risk of developing dementia, but our lifestyle and habits also appear to play a significant role.
Numerous studies have highlighted a link between cardiometabolic diseases—such as heart disease, stroke, hypertension and type 2 diabetes—with accelerated cognitive decline. But whether this can be offset by a healthy lifestyle has previously been unclear.
In a new study, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, researchers from Beijing examined 2,537 participants over the age of 60. Participants were given a physical examination to determine their weight, height and blood pressure, as well as tests for cognitive function and cardiometabolic diseases.
Finally, they were surveyed on their adherence to six lifestyle factors which had previously been identified to support brain health: physical exercise, social interaction, leisure activities, sleep quality, smoking status and alcohol consumption. Each participant was given an overall lifestyle score in which each of these factors contributed one point.
In total, the team found that each one-point increase in the participants' overall lifestyle score was associated with an 18 percent reduced risk of early cognitive decline.
This cumulative scoring system suggests that a combination of lifestyle factors, rather than any single factor, may be responsible for this slowed rate of cognitive decline.
"A healthier lifestyle is associated with a significant reduced risk of early cognitive decline, but lifestyle changes can't be piecemeal," the study's joint lead authors, Haowei Li of the National Clinical Research Center for Geriatrics Diseases, and Shige Qi from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a statement.
"The most beneficial protective effect is seen when clustering multiple lifestyle factors together, showing just how powerful exercise, socializing, sleeping, and healthy consumption habits are in combination."