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Study: Exercise Lowers Risk of Dementia

This undated image provided by Merck & Co., shows a cross section of a normal brain (right) and one of a brain damaged by advanced Alzheimer's disease, December 3, 2012.
Exercise can significantly lower the risk of dementia, according to a study of 2,235 men over a 35-year period.

The research, which was done at Cardiff University, is the longest of its kind to “probe the influence of environmental factors in chronic disease.”

But exercise alone is not enough.

The study identified five healthy behaviors as being integral to having the best chance of leading a disease-free lifestyle: regular exercise, non-smoking, a low body weight, a healthy diet, and a low alcohol intake.

Following four of the five behaviors led to a 60 percent decline in dementia and cognitive decline - with exercise being the strongest mitigating factor – as well as 70 percent fewer instances of diabetes, heart disease and stroke, compared with people who followed none.

"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 aging population," said 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 behaviors have a far more beneficial effect than any medical treatment or preventative procedure.”

Elwood added that the study revealed few people follow a fully healthy lifestyle.

“Our findings reveal that while the number of people who smoke has gone down since the study started, the number of people leading a fully healthy lifestyle has not changed," he added.