Most people begin exercising at the start of the new year in order to lose any weight gained over the fall holidays. But a new study, which tracked the health habits of 2,235 men over 35 years, found that exercise does more than slim you down. It decreases your risk of dementia, too.
Cardiff University researchers identified five healthy behaviors that are important in living a disease-free lifestyle. They are regular exercise, non-smoking, healthy body weight, a healthy diet, and low alcohol consumption.
There was a 60 percent decline in dementia and cognitive function for the participants who followed four or five of the behaviors. More important, exercise was the leading mitigating factor.
“The size of reduction in the instance of disease owing to these simple healthy steps has really amazed us and is of enormous importance in an aging population,” said Principle Investigator Professor Peter Elwood from Cardiff University’s School of Medicine. “What the research shows is that following a healthy lifestyle confers surprisingly large benefits to health—healthy behaviors have a far more beneficial effect than any medical treatment or preventative procedure.
“Taking up and following a healthy lifestyle is however the responsibility of the individual him or herself,” Elwood continued. “Sadly, the evidence from this study shows that very few people follow a fully healthy lifestyle. Furthermore, our findings reveal that while the number of people who smoke has gone down since the study started, the number of people leading a fully healthy lifestyle has not changed.”
Dr. Doug Brown, director of research and development at the Alzheimer’s Society, said that what is good for the heart is also good for the head.
“This study provides more evidence to show that healthy living could significantly reduce the chances of developing dementia,” Brown said. “These large, longitudinal studies are expensive and complicated to run, but are essential to understand how dementia can be prevented. We are calling on the G8 Summit next week to commit to greater funding of important studies such as this one, which give us hope for reducing the impact of dementia in the future.”
Exercise, then, is the true fountain of youth. Not only does it boost creativity and help you maintain a healthy weight, it looks like it now helps keep your brain sharp. And keeping our wits about us is something I think we can all agree on.