By Leah Fein
The World Health Organization (WHO) recently released a set of guidelines to reduce the risk of dementia globally, essentially advising to take care of your heart to take care of your brain.
Dementia is a loss of cognitive functioning — thinking, memory, reasoning, and behavioral abilities — to the extent that it interferes with a person’s daily life and activities. Dementia has many causes and no cure, which is why the WHO emphasized the need for adopting healthy behaviors.
“The scientific evidence gathered for these guidelines confirm what we have suspected for some time, that what is good for our heart, is also good for our brain,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement.
Penn Memory Center Co-Director Jason Karlawish echoed these thoughts to Prevention Magazine.
“Exercise has been shown to improve cardiovascular health, and there’s ample data that if you can improve cardiovascular health, you can reduce risk of developing dementia” he said.
The WHO encourages adults aged 65 and older to complete at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity or at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week.
Besides exercise, the WHO highlights the following health behaviors to reduce the risk of dementia and/or cognitive decline:
A healthy diet throughout the life course is essential for maintaining health. While there is some support for following a mediterranean-like diet to reduce the risk of dementia, the WHO report generally recommends eating a healthy, balance diet for all adults. This includes fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and whole grains.
“Having high blood pressure and being overweight have also been linked to heart disease, spiking your dementia,” Dr. Karlawish told Prevention Magazine. To reduce this risk, the WHO recommends following a balanced diet and staying physically active.
The WHO also recommends maintaining healthy cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
Some research has shown that lower social participation and loneliness are associated with higher rates of dementia, the WHO reported. While there is not enough evidence to confidently suggest social activity reduces the risk of dementia, social participation is strongly connected to good health and well-being throughout life.
Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death globally and cessation should be encouraged throughout the lifespan, including those aged 65 and older. Tobacco dependence is associated with age-related conditions and disorders, such as frailty, dementia, and cognitive decline, the WHO reported.
Don’t drink too much
Harmful alcohol consumption is linked to an increased risk of dementia. “It may be due to toxicity to brain cells,” Karlawish told the magazine.
It’s never too late to start adopting these healthy behaviors.
Neurologist and geriatric psychiatrist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center, David A. Merrill, MD, PhD, told Prevention Magazine, “today’s the day to start a new habit, take the first step, to stave off dementia. Your brain will thank you for it.”
Learn more about these recommendations here.