GETTYScientists have revealed seven simple steps to stave off dementia
The new health plan, drawn up by some of the world’s top doctors, aims to keep killer conditions such as stroke and heart disease at bay by maintaining a healthy and active brain.
The Life’s Simple Seven programme urges people to manage their blood pressure, control cholesterol, keep blood sugar levels normal and become physically active.
We also need to eat a healthy diet, lose any extra weight and give up smoking.
The advice, compiled by a panel of leading neurologists and cardiologists, concludes that such a healthy lifestyle benefits our brains just as much as the rest of our bodies.
Those following the plan will lessen the risk of cognitive decline – a loss of the ability to think clearly – as they grow older.
Vascular neurologist Dr Philip Gorelick, chairman of the group behind the study, said: “Over time the arteries carrying blood to the brain may narrow or become damaged, which can lead to dementia. The good news is that managing risk factors – and managing them early on – can keep those arteries strong and make a world of difference for our long-term brain health.”
GETTYLosing extra weight and exercising could help keep your brain healthy
Hardening of the arteries, a disease known medically as atherosclerosis, can lead to blood clots – the cause of many heart attacks and stroke.
It is never too early or too late to adopt a healthy lifestyle
Dr Laura Phipps
But Dr Gorelick, of Mercy Health Hauenstein Neurosciences in the US, said: “Research convincingly demonstrates the same risk factors that cause atherosclerosis are also major contributors to late-life cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease.
"By following Life’s Simple Seven not only can we prevent heart attack and stroke, we may also be able to prevent cognitive impairment."
A healthy brain is defined as one that can pay attention, receive and recognise information from our senses, learn and remember, communicate, solve problems and make decisions, support mobility and regulate emotions.
GETTYEating a healthy diet can keep the mind active
Cognitive impairment can affect any or all of those functions. The advice, published in the journal Stroke, stresses the importance of taking action as early as possible because atherosclerosis can begin in childhood.
Dr Gorelick said: “Studies are ongoing to learn how heart-healthy strategies can impact brain health even early in life.”
Although more research is needed, “the outlook is promising,” he said. In the UK, heart disease remains the biggest killer, claiming around 160,000 lives a year.
High blood pressure, which affects about one in four British adults, is known to harm vessels that supply oxygen and nutrients to the heart and the brain.
The damage can lead to a build-up of fatty deposits as well as clotting. This narrows the vessels and can cause stroke or “mini-strokes”. The resulting mental decline is called vascular dementia.
Previously, experts believed problems with thinking caused by Alzheimer’s disease and similar conditions were entirely separate from stroke.
GETTYQuitting smoking has numerous health benefits
But Dr Gorelick said: “Over time we have learned the same risk factors for stroke are also risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease.”
The authors reviewed 182 scientific studies to form their conclusions. Dr Laura Phipps, of Alzheimer’s Research UK, welcomed the report.
She said: “We know that many things people can do to promote physical health can also have a positive impact on the brain.
“It is never too early or too late to adopt a healthy lifestyle.”