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Eating more natural, unprocessed food, keeping active and having a good social life are all ways you can fight off dementia as you age, according to two new studies published Wednesday in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
One study investigated how physical and mental activities such as household chores, exercise, and visiting with family and friends could potentially lower the risk of dementia. The other study looked at the impact of eating ultraprocessed food on the future risk of dementia.
Physical, mental and social activity helps
Over 500,000 people participating in the UK Biobank, which houses in-depth genetic and health information, were asked about how often they climbed stairs, walked or biked, did chores for home or work, or participated in strenuous sports.
The same group of people was also asked about their educational level and whether they went to adult education classes, how often they visited with friends and family, and how often they participated in social clubs or religious groups. Then they were quizzed on the extent of their electronic use, such as playing computer games, watching TV and using a smartphone.
Participants were followed for about 11 years to see if they developed dementia.
People who were highly engaged in activity patterns such as frequent exercise had a 35% lower risk of developing dementia compared with people who were the least engaged in these activities, researchers found.
Regularly doing household chores lowered risk by 21% while daily visits with family and friends lowered the risk of dementia by 15%, compared with people who were less engaged. Visiting pubs appeared to raise risk, the study found.
“Social activity is a form of cognitive stimulation and helps build cognitive reserve, which in part may explain how it protects against dementia,” said Dr. Kellyann Niotis, a neurologist at the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian, who was not involved with the study.
People who engage in regular social activities also have more memory-protective proteins and are more likely to feel a sense of meaning in life – all of which are important to brain health. As a bonus, pursuing exercise with others may amplify the benefit of each, she said.
Everyone in the study benefited from the protective effect of physical and mental activities, whether or not they had a family history of dementia, researchers found.
A key limitation of the study was that people were asked to remember, not objectively track, their activities, and they were asked only once at the beginning of the study about their behaviors.
“More research is needed to confirm our findings. However, our results are encouraging that making these simple lifestyle changes may