As scientists link midlife obesity to higher dementia risk for women later in life, here are a few ways to help futureproof your health.
22 December 2019| Last updated on 8 January 2020
All Credits: PA
A new study has found a link between obesity in midlife and a greater risk of dementia later in life for women.
Researchers discovered that those obese at the beginning of the study – led by Dr. Sarah Floud, of the Nuffield Department of Population Health at the University of Oxford – were found to have a 21% higher risk of developing dementia in the long-term than those with a desirable BMI. But what can you do, regardless of gender, to reduce your risk levels?
Evidence suggests one in three cases of dementia could be prevented if we could eliminate certain risk factors, says Dr. Carol Routledge, director of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK (ARUK).
So here are some simple things you can do to help inhibit dementia, and keep your brain and body in better shape for longer…
1. Avoid smoking
“There are already many good health reasons to stop smoking as it is linked to multiple medical conditions including cancer, heart disease, stroke and more,” says Routledge. “There is also evidence that smoking can increase your risk of dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s disease.”
If you want to quit but don't know where to start, she recommends talking to your GP for advice.
2. Eat your fruit and veg to outwit obesity and Type 2 diabetes
“Obesity is closely linked to Type 2 diabetes, which is also a risk factor linked to dementia,” notes Routlegde, on this double whammy of conditions. “Tackling obesity could help improve your health on many levels.”
She says that by “eating a healthy, balanced diet and regularly exercising and keeping active, you will give yourself the best chance of maintaining a healthy weight,” and in turn, help “protect yourself from the diseases that cause dementia.”
3. Go for a jog
“Research finds that older people who regularly take part in physical activities have a lower risk of cognitive problems and vascular dementia,” says Routledge: “It is never too early or too late to adopt a lifestyle that supports a healthy brain.”
Run, swim, cycle, walk, take two stairs at a time, roller skate, ice skate, garden incessantly – it’s about keeping your body moving.
4. Watch out for high blood pressure
“If your blood pressure is too high, it puts extra strain on your blood vessels, heart and other organs, such as the brain, kidneys and eyes,” explains Routledge. “Persistent high blood pressure can increase your risk of a number of serious and potentially life-threatening conditions including forms of dementia such as vascular dementia.”
Points one, two and three should all help lower your blood pressure, however, “if you do all of these things and still have high blood pressure, or have a family history of high blood pressure, you should speak to your GP.”
5. Look after your heart
“There is significant evidence to suggest that what is good for the heart is good for the brain,” says Paulette Winchester-Joseph, deputy clinical lead of the Admiral Nurse Dementia Helpline UK. “It’s therefore recommended to eat a healthy balanced diet and keep up regular exercise to help lower the risk of vascular dementia.”
6. Knock back fewer boozy drinks
“While there is little evidence that alcohol causes Alzheimer’s disease, it is linked with other types of dementia,” says Routledge, who recommends following the chief medical officer’s low-risk guidelines: “This means not regularly drinking more than 14 units a week for both men and women. People who drink as much as this should spread their drinking over three or more days, but also have several alcohol-free days each week.”
7. Call a friend
“Research findings suggest social isolation and a lack of mental stimulation could contribute to cognitive decline and therefore raise the risk of developing dementia,” notes Routledge. “Keeping mentally active by learning new skills or joining clubs can also be a good way to connect with other people and improve mental wellbeing, helping you to be happier and more positive in life.”
So yes, doing the crossword, reading a book, trying a new language and picking up an instrument can all help, but even better, do all of those things alongside other people.
8. Keep an eye on any changes to your memory
“It is important to consult a GP as soon as possible if you are concerned about your memory, or you are worried about changes in the memory, personality or behaviour of someone close to you, so that an accurate diagnosis is made,” adds Winchester-Joseph.