The problem of dementia is estimated to have an enormous social impact in our country in 2030 with over one and a half million cases: a rampant epidemic which, while waiting for drugs that can improve or delay the course of the disease, must be fought mainly with early diagnosis and prevention, adopting correct lifestyles.
Making choices before old age
A very recent preliminary study published a few days ago and which will be presented in April in Boston during the 75th annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology involved 13,720 female participants with an average age of 54 at the beginning of the study. The subjects were then followed up for twenty years and the researchers verified 1,771 cases of dementia, equal to 13% of the subjects examined, identifying seven cerebral and cardiovascular health factors that proved to be useful for the prevention of dementia, reaching the conclusion that making healthy lifestyle choices in midlife can lead to a reduced risk of dementia later in life. The factors that have been identified to reduce the risk of dementia are: maintaining blood pressure within normal levels, having correct cholesterol and blood sugar levels, getting regular physical activity and a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight and not smoking. By focusing on these seven goals, people can make positive lifestyle changes that can improve their health and reduce their risk of dementia and chronic disease.
Exercise reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s
According to the Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation, regular exercise can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by up to 50% and also slow the deterioration of those who have already begun to experience cognitive problems. A systematic review entitled “Physical Activity and Alzheimer’s Disease: A Systematic Review”, published in the journal “The Journal of Gerontology” which analyzed 24 studies, documented how the risk of Alzheimer’s disease is much lower in those who practice regular physical activity at recreational and amateur purposes. Current evidence does not allow specific practical recommendations regarding the type, frequency, intensity and duration of physical activity to be shown to be protective against Alzheimer’s disease, so the advice is to engage on all possible fronts (balance, coordination, strength, aerobic endurance, dexterity, flexibility and mobility) by choosing the volume, intensity and duration of training based on your physical condition, age and any pathologies present.
Ideal training plan
The ideal training plan should include a combination of aerobic exercise such as walking, running, cycling or swimming with strength training to be carried out with weights, elastic bands but also bodyweight and exercises for dexterity and balance. What is the optimal intensity of physical activity to prevent the risk of dementia? This question is answered by a study published in JAMA Network Open which linked the “dose” of physical activity and brain volume. The physical activity of 2,354 people with no cognitive deficits and an average age of 53 years was monitored for four years and, in addition, the participants underwent brain magnetic resonance imaging. The results showed that light physical activity, such as a simple walk, is sufficient to preserve the well-being of the brain and it is not necessary to carry out an intense one. How to start moving? If you start from scratch you shouldn’t try to force too much at the beginning because you can risk injuries and decrease motivation. The advice is to start with breathing and movement exercises designed to reconnect mind and body. Then start walking slowly trying to reach a moderate to fast pace. You can start by walking 10-15 minutes a day and then add a few more minutes to each walk, reaching at least 30-40 minutes a day. Training must be sustainable and adapt to the person’s lifestyle, so that it becomes part of the day without feeling like a duty or a burden.
The balanced diet
But prevention, in addition to physical activity, must also concern a healthy and balanced diet, a correct body composition, where the muscle mass component is considered fundamental especially in the elderly, and a good psycho-emotional balance. The Mediterranean diet low in saturated fats and simple sugars and rich in vegetables, fish and olive oil would seem to guarantee less cognitive decline, while a diet rich in saturated fats and with an excess of sugar, sweets and simple carbohydrates seems to have a statistically greater risk for Alzheimer’s disease also because diabetes is known to damage nerves and cause memory problems. It is therefore very important for doctors and family members to identify patients in advance in order to intervene as early as possible on risk factors related to lifestyle, such as smoking, alcohol abuse, diabetes, depression, hypertension, obesity, hearing problems , sedentary lifestyle, which have a very important impact on both the onset of the disease and its progression.