Exercise, controlling your blood pressure and cognitive training. These three lifestyle changes could, in fact, help delay the onset of dementia, a new report has claimed.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine report that there is now “encouraging” evidence that incorporating these three factors into your everyday life can help slow the emergence of the disease.
Three small changes
The report, published last week, highlights three areas of interest that could potentially have the ability to delay dementia.
The first, and perhaps most simple lifestyle change studied was that of exercise and its effect on the brain.
Researchers found that exercise might slow mental decline due to its many positive benefits on the body. There is evidence that exercise can prevent stroke, which is closely linked to cognitive health in general.
Exercise also releases specific substances in the cells that are helpful for survival. As director of the Centre for Cognitive Health at Mount Sinai Hospital, Dr Sam Gandy explains:
“There is good evidence that physical exercise delays onset or slows progression [of dementia], perhaps because exercise stimulates the release of nerve cell survival substances.”
Another area studied was that of blood pressure. Researchers found that lowering your blood pressure through a combination of medication, diet and exercise could help delay dementia.
The final area, that of cognitive training, showed the most promising results. A trial found that prolonged cognitive training, such as those involving reasoning and problem solving, might improve long-term brain function.
However, the report does not state which mental activities are the best in preventing dementia, how low blood pressure should go, or how much exercise is needed, because further testing is still required.
“There is good cause for hope that in the next several years much more will be known about how to prevent cognitive decline and dementia, as more clinical trial results become available and more evidence emerges,” said Alan Leshner, chair of the committee and CEO emeritus of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Mr Leshner has stressed however that the current evidence can still be beneficial to the general public, as it can help people decide what is best for them when it comes to their mental health:
“Even though clinical trials have not conclusively supported the three interventions discussed in our report, the evidence is strong enough to suggest the public should at least have access to these results to help inform their decisions about how they can invest their time and resources to maintain brain health with ageing.”
Keith Fargo, director of scientific programs and outreach at the Alzheimer’s Association, has also stressed the importance in giving people information and options on how to reduce the risk of dementia:
“It’s high time that people are given information about things they can do today to reduce their risk of cognitive decline and possibly dementia,” he said.
“Everyone is worried. But you shouldn’t feel helpless. You should take control of your brain health,” he added.