It is fantastic that since the 1800’s human life expectancy has almost doubled due to improved diet and medical advances including immunisations, antibiotics and other medicines and surgical treatment. However, increased life span brings new risks – specifically chronic diseases including dementia. An article in the prestigious and renown Lancet Neurology clearly identified that life-style contributes significantly to the risk of dementia. Whilst getting older is inevitable, dementia is not.
The cliché ‘what is good for your heart is good for your brain’ is true as five life-style culprits for dementia are: midlife obesity, diabetes mellitus, midlife hypertension, smoking and physical inactivity. All these factors impact the heart and then due to compromised cardio-vascular health they then impact brain health. However research now indicates that these factors also directly impact the brain- which means they hit you twice – once via your heart health and once directly.
The other two factors are depression and low educational attainment. These impact the brain in different ways. Chronic depression leads to excessive cortisol which is part of the stress response, resulting in lower growth factors in the brain and the death of brain cells in the memory system. Low educational attainment is a problem because brains ‘grow’ with novel challenges and new learning opportunities.
If you are going to live a long time you need to have a healthy functioning brain operating on all cylinders. You can’t wait until you retire to get it right – ageing well takes a life time, and research indicates that by age 30-40 years habits really start to count. To invest in your brain health and reduce dementia risk start by getting these six things right and live a long life with a younger brain:
- Exercise daily
- Keep a healthy weight
- Stop smoking- if the stop cancer message hasn’t worked yet add on stop dementia
- Manage hypertension and cholesterol
- Reduce stress and seek psychological intervention for depression and mental health issues
- Keep learning