Harvard tips for living longer without dementia

Amitabh Bachchan Anupam Kher

2 of the Indian icons have aged well despite health setbacks. Superstar Amitabh Bachchan and accomplished actor Anupam Kher.

Are you looking for the formula to age well, healthy and with brain function intact? Your doctor preached: don’t smoke, cut down on alcohol, eat healthily, maintain a healthy weight, and get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day. And you think it’s just a superficial plot? Well, we’re afraid not, and the doctor is right.

A study published online by the BMJ on April 13, 2022 found that those aged 65 and older who regularly practiced numerous healthy lifestyle habits lived longer and had fewer years with dementia than those who did or did not practice a healthy lifestyle.
According to Harvard Health magazine, a long-term study offers hope that a healthy lifestyle will not only prolong your life, but also the years you will live dementia-free.

The research team that worked on this study used data collected over 20 years on the cognitive health and lifestyle habits of nearly 2,500 people aged 65 and older.

What is your score on the 5 lifestyle factors?

  1. eat a plant-based diet
  2. Activities that challenge the brain (like playing cards, doing crossword puzzles, or visiting museums),
  3. at least 150 minutes of sport per week,
  4. Not Smokingand
  5. drink in moderation (in this study, no more than one drink per day for women, two drinks for men).

What the study found:

  1. Women aged 65 with 4 or 5 healthy lifestyle factors lived 24 years longer and lived 3 years longer than women with 1 or 0 healthy lifestyle factors.
  2. Men aged 65 with 4 or 5 healthy lifestyle factors lived 23 years longer (approximately 6 years longer than men with 1 or no healthy lifestyle factors).

The study authors also found that this type of lifestyle was less associated with the development of Alzheimer’s. The disclaimer says the study was observational and doesn’t prove that healthy habits get you more years without dementia, but plenty of other evidence suggests that a healthy lifestyle increases lifespan and protects the brain, Harvard Health reports.

However, a response from a French scholar was very revealing. The professor (Dr. Timothy P. Daly, Philosophy of Science, Faculty of Letters, Sorbonne Université, Paris, France) writes with the urgent advice to exercise caution in the interpretation of these data:

1. Promising associations are not interventions, and all attempts to treat dementia have failed to date, including most lifestyle interventions later in life.

2. Study findings do not address the robust association between wealth and brain health, despite socioeconomic disadvantage, which increases risk of dementia regardless of lifestyle while decreasing participation in healthy lifestyle activities.

3. Dementia is not a disease (the cause of which is to blame) and can only be blamed on an individual or their physical and mental condition. “Individualistic approaches that focus solely on a lifestyle tend to overlook the need for structural changes within society as part of a holistic approach to dementia,” argues Dr. Daly.

Professor Daly argues that lifestyle approaches to dementia prevention should coexist with broad action against the social determinants of brain health and rigorous testing of targeted interventions in people at high risk.

All of the above arguments also ring true as we exist and thrive in society. Therefore, our ailments and our health practices should also analyze and optimize how society affects an individual’s health.

The aim should not only be to be free of cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease by the time you turn 50, 60 or 70, but also to create a society, regardless of differences in socio-economic or cultural parameters, that does justice to its components.

Disclaimer: The tips and suggestions mentioned in this article are for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as professional medical advice. Always consult your doctor or a nutritionist before beginning any fitness program or changing your diet.

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