Healthful Habits Reduce Risk for Dementia


The American Heart Association promotes a list called “Simple 7” as a reminder of the lifestyle habits that can help to prevent dementia and heart attacks (Circulation, 2022;145:808–818). The AHA’s “Simple 7” are:
• Healthful eating
• Exercise
• Weight loss if overweight
• No smoking
• Control blood pressure
• Control cholesterol
• Control blood sugar

This “Simple 7” list has been used in a 30-year study of 11,561 people (average age 54), with 2234 who developed dementia during the study period. First the researchers looked for known genetic risk factors for developing Alzheimer’s disease, such as APOE-e4 (Neurology, May 25, 2022). Then they scored all of the participants on the AHA’s “Simple 7” list of lifestyle factors. Without exception, those in the groups that had the highest healthful lifestyle scores had the lowest risk for developing dementia, whether they had or did not have the genetic risk factors.

Similar Results in Other Studies
• A study of 6,600 people over 65, followed for 8.5 years, found that the lifestyle risk factors for heart attacks were also risk factors for dementia, and that correcting each heart attack risk factor reduced risk for dementia (JAMA, Aug 21, 2018;320(7):657-664). Changing from an unhealthful factor to a healthful one reduced risk for dementia by 10 percent for each factor, compared to those who had none of the positive factors.

• Researchers followed 3596 people for 31 years, starting in childhood, and found that heart attack risk factors were also risk factors for reduced mental function: high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and obesity (Circulation, May 13, 2021).

• An MRI study of 125 healthy people, ages 18-40, showed that those who had fewer heart attack risk factors also had far less brain damage and risk for dementia: more blood vessels in their brains, a greater blood flow to their brains, and fewer areas of damaged brain cells (JAMA, Aug 21, 2018;320(7):665-673).

• A study of 62,286 participants found that even a low amount of light-intensity activity is associated with reduced risk of dementia in older adults (JAMA Netw Open, Dec 16, 2021;4(12):e2138526). See How Exercise Reduces Risk for Dementia. The risk for dementia can also be reduced significantly by lowering high blood sugar levels, maintaining a healthful weight, and avoiding smoking (Lancet, Feb 1, 2022;7(2):e93-e94).

My Recommendations
You can reduce your risk for suffering from dementia by up to 70 percent when you follow the same healthful habits that help to prevent heart attacks. The American Heart Association’s Simple 7 list is a good summary, and I always try to provide more detail on healthful eating:
• Follow a diet that restricts mammal and processed meats, sugar added foods, all drinks with sugar in them, and fried foods.
• Eat a wide variety of plants and plant parts: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds.
• Lose weight if you are overweight.
• If you can pinch more than two inches of fat under the skin near your belly button, ask your doctor to check your blood sugar one hour after you eat a meal. If it is greater than 145 mg/dL, you are likely to be diabetic and at increased risk for dementia. See Lifestyle Changes to Help Prevent and Treat Diabetes

Checked 12/24/22