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How diet, exercise and social activity can delay dementia

  • Some study participants followed diet that included low-fat dairy and meat
  • Scheme also advised muscle training between one and three times a week
  • Brain training involved sessions with psychologists and computer tasks
  • Their test scores were 25% higher than group who didn’t receive guidance

Jenny Hope, Medical Correspondent for the Daily Mail



A healthy lifestyle can preserve the brainpower of those at risk of dementia, according to a landmark study.

Regular exercise, a healthy diet, brain training and social activities were found to help stave off mental decline.

The study is the first large-scale human trial to show that healthy living can help maintain or even improve brain function.

Regular exercise, a healthy diet and brain training s were found to help stave off mental decline (file image)

It found those at risk of dementia put on a two-year lifestyle programme performed 25 per cent better in brain tests than those who received only basic health advice.

The University of Eastern Finland, the National Institute for Health and Welfare in Helsinki, and Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, assessed almost 1,300 people aged 60-77.

Lead researcher Professor Miia Kivipelto said the study showed an ‘intensive programme’ addressing diet, heart health and fitness might ‘prevent cognitive decline in elderly people at risk’.

About 850,000 Britons have dementia, making it one of the top three causes of disability in old age. 

About 850,000 Britons have dementia, making it one of the top three causes of disability in old age (file image)

About 850,000 Britons have dementia, making it one of the top three causes of disability in old age (file image)

Previous studies have estimated preventive action could cut one in five new cases over the next 20 years. 

The latest research split participants into two groups – one receiving simple health advice, and the other in-depth guidance on nutrition, exercise, cognitive training and social activities.

The diet included high amounts of fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, low-fat dairy and meat, less than 50g sugar a day and fish at least twice a week. The scheme recommended muscle training between one and three times a week and aerobic exercise two to five times a week.

Brain training included sessions with psychologists and regular computer-based exercises at home. The intervention patients also had regular heart check-ups with a nurse or doctor. After two years, the intensive group’s overall scores in brain tests were 25 per cent higher than the other group.

In some areas, the difference was even more striking. On the brain’s ability to organise thoughts, results were 83 per cent higher among those on the lifestyle programme, and they were 150 per cent better at processing.

Dr Simon Ridley, of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said the ‘promising’ results suggest ‘improving cardiovascular health and keeping mentally active could slow decline in some aspects of our thinking’.

But Alzheimer’s Society’s Dr Doug Brown said more research is needed into how to ‘protect the brain in the longer term’.

The participants will be re-tested in seven years to determine whether intervention cuts dementia.


Thousands of middle-aged ‘worried well’ patients are overwhelming memory clinics set up to diagnose dementia, warn experts.

Figures show the number of people visiting specialists for tests has quadrupled in four years, leading to waiting times of up to six months in some areas.

GPs are being urged to reduce the numbers of people under 70 being wrongly referred for tests when they have ‘lost car key syndrome’ or simple absent mindedness, The Times reported.

Each of England’s 200 memory clinics saw an average of 1,206 patients in 2013, up from 317 in 2010, said the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

Yet studies show less than half of those referred are diagnosed with dementia.

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