New research offers practical steps we can take to protect our minds from memory loss.
A large UK-based study published this week in the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology has found that physical and mental activities, such as household chores, exercise or visiting loved ones, can help reduce the risk of dementia.
The roughly 11-year study followed 501,376 people in the UK who self-reported their physical and mental activities at the start of the experiment: how often they visit friends, their level of education, how often they climb the stairs, how they get to work. , and more.
The study found that certain activities were associated with a lower risk of dementia. People who exercised frequently had a 35% lower risk, people who performed household chores frequently had a 21% lower risk, and people who visited family and friends daily had a lower risk by 15%.
And while dementia risk factors also include factors beyond our control, such as aging and genetics, research points out that there are behaviors you can do to reduce your risk of dementia or delay the disease, a said Dr. Scott Turner, director of the memory disorders program at Georgetown University Medical Center, told HuffPost.
The study comes with a few caveats: the results are a correlation, not necessarily a direct link. Another limitation is that because people reported their own physical and mental activities, there is always a risk that some people forget the activities they did or reported them incorrectly.
“More research is needed to confirm our findings. However, our results are encouraging and show that these simple lifestyle changes can be beneficial,” study author Dr. Huan Song of Sichuan University in China said in a statement.
Overall, the results are welcome news, given that more than 5 million people in the United States are living with dementia – and that number is only expected to grow.
Keeping your brain stimulated is key.
Whether through physical activity, social activity or mental activity, putting your brain to work can help delay the onset of dementia or reduce the risk altogether.
Chores are both physical and mental activity (and can even sometimes be considered exercise, Turner noted). Visiting with loved ones is a social activity that also requires mental stimulation, and physical activity also requires mental dedication.
Turner said people who develop vision or hearing problems could be at higher risk of dementia if they don’t fix the problem by getting glasses or hearing aids. When you can’t hear or see, he explained, “you deprive your brain of sensory input and you need to keep your brain stimulated” to help reduce your risk of dementia.
Physical activity has a double benefit when it comes to the risk of dementia.
Another risk factor for dementia is diabetes, Turner noted, and there are some lifestyle habits you can follow to reduce your risk of diabetes. These include exercising, following a healthy diet, and maintaining an ideal body weight throughout your life.
So not only does exercise help lower your risk of dementia, it also helps lower your risk of diabetes, which in itself puts you at risk for memory loss.
It’s never too late to implement these changes.
Turner pointed out that no matter your age, it’s never too late to start following some of these lifestyle recommendations. And it can be as simple as vacuuming the house extra or going for a walk with your neighbor, for example.
“I recommend doing as much as possible with the lifestyle [changes] to avoid and prevent dementia,” he said. “And, of course, prevention is better than cure.”
For those who already have memory issues or dementia, Turner said lifestyle changes that require physical, social or mental activity are always beneficial. You can help slow the progression of dementia by keeping your brain stimulated. This is why puzzles are a popular activity for people with Alzheimer’s disease.
If you are having new memory problems, talk to your doctor.
“If someone develops memory issues, they should definitely seek an evaluation starting with their primary care provider,” Turner said.
He pointed out that some very treatable things cause memory problems, like sleep apnea and vitamin B12 deficiency. But any neurological changes should be evaluated so you get the right treatment plan.