Vigorous daily exercise can significantly reduce the risk of dementia, a 35-year study has found.
Taking regular exercise, non-smoking, a low bodyweight, a healthy diet and a low alcohol intake are five healthy behaviours that the long-term study identified as being integral to leading a disease-free lifestyle.
People who consistently followed four or five of these behaviours experienced a 60 per cent decline in dementia and cognitive decline - with exercise being the strongest mitigating factor – as well as 70 per cent fewer instances of diabetes, heart disease and stroke, compared with people who followed none.
The number of people living with dementia worldwide is set to treble and reach 135 million by 2050, according to a recent analysis by Alzheimer's Disease International (ADI).
"The size of reduction in the instance of disease owing to these simple healthy steps has really amazed us and is of enormous importance in an ageing population," said Principle Investigator Professor Peter Elwood from Cardiff University's School of Medicine.
"What the research shows is that following a healthy lifestyle confers surprisingly large benefits to health – healthy behaviours have a far more beneficial effect than any medical treatment or preventative procedure," said Elwood.
"If the men had been urged to adopt just one additional healthy behaviour at the start of the study 35 years ago, and if only half of them complied, then during the ensuing 35 years there would have been a 13 per cent reduction in dementia, a 12 per cent drop in diabetes, six per cent less vascular disease and a five per cent reduction in deaths," Elwood said.
The Caerphilly Cohort Study recorded the healthy behaviours of 2,235 men aged 45-59 in Caerphilly, South Wales, UK.