A recent study found evidence that regular exercise can improve protection for the brain against dementia.
According to the study published last week in Alzheimer's & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association, researchers noted that exercise increases the strength of proteins the brain needs to communicate with the rest of the body.
The strengthening of these proteins could improve your chances of fighting off dementia and other cognitive illnesses.
Researchers analyzed protein levels in people who donated their brains after death. The average brain came from a person aged 70 to 80 years old.
Researchers also tracked late-life physical activity in elderly living participants. There they found that people who were more physically active exhibited higher levels of proteins used for the brain to exhibit healthy cognitive function.
About 50 million people currently have dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type. Each year brings 10 million new cases, according to a report released in 2019 by the World Health Organization.
Although age is the top risk factor, "dementia is not a natural or inevitable consequence of aging," the report said.
Many health conditions and behaviors affect the odds of developing it, and research suggests that a third of cases are preventable, said Maria Carrillo, chief science officer of the Alzheimer’s Association, which has published similar advice .
Much of the WHO’s advice is common sense and echoes what the U.S. National Institute on Aging says.
That includes getting enough exercise; treating other health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol; having an active social life, and avoiding or curbing harmful habits such as smoking, overeating and drinking too much alcohol. Evidence is weak that some of these help preserve thinking skills, but they’re known to aid general health, the WHO says.
Eating well, and possibly following a Mediterranean-style diet, may help prevent dementia, the guidelines say. But they take a firm stance against vitamin B or E pills, fish oil or multi-complex supplements that are promoted for brain health because there’s strong research showing they don’t work.
"There is currently no evidence to show that taking these supplements actually reduces the risk of cognitive decline and dementia, and in fact, we know that in high doses these can be harmful," said the WHO’s Dr. Neerja Chowdhary.
"People should be looking for these nutrients through food ... not through supplements," Carrillo agreed.
The WHO also did not endorse games and other activities aimed at boosting thinking skills. These can be considered for people with normal capacities or mild impairment, but there’s low to very low evidence of benefit.
There’s not enough evidence to recommend antidepressants to reduce dementia risk although they may be used to treat depression, the report says. Hearing aids also may not reduce dementia risk, but older people should be screened for hearing loss and treated accordingly.
This story was reported from Los Angeles. The Associated Press contributed.