A 35-year study has shown that people who had four of five healthy habits were 60 percent less likely to develop dementia and cognitive decline. The habits are: exercising regularly, not smoking, maintaining a healthy body weight and diet, and consuming a low level of alcohol.
The study reinforced previous research on healthy lifestyles, which appear to do more to prevent dementia than any pill or other medical treatment. Study after study confirms that exercise is as close to a magic bullet against dementia as we have now. It doesn’t have to be strenuous—moderate exercise of around 150 minutes weekly seems to do the trick. And it can be done in 10-minute bursts.
It’s virtually never too late to become active—people in their 80s who were measured as moving often in their daily lives (while washing dishes, for example) still showed preventive effects. In a study published in the journal Neurology, those with the lowest levels of activity were more than twice as likely to have Alzheimer’s as those with the highest activity levels when participants were assessed four years later.
Even for people with a well-known genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s (the e4 allele of the apolipoprotein E or APOE gene), exercise may be particularly helpful in lowering the risk of Alzheimer’s, studies show.
Exercise is such a strong Alzheimer’s deterrent that researchers are studying its biological effect on the brain, hoping to develop a drug with that knowledge. Of course, exercise increases blood flow, delivering more glucose and oxygen to the brain. Researchers also are tracking exercise-generated enzymes, a hormone or a protein that may help in staving off Alzheimer’s.