Participating in regular physical activity and managing certain cardiovascular risk factors (smoking, hypertension, diabetes, and obesity) reduces the risk of cognitive decline, according to an evidence review by the Alzheimer’s Association published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia earlier this month. This review adds to the growing scientific consensus, including a recentInstitute of Medicine report, that modifying certain behaviors can protect cognition and support brain health.
Based on an examination of the current state of the science, the analysis concludes there is sufficiently strong evidence, from a population perspective, to link physical activity and management of certain cardiovascular risk factors to a reduced risk of cognitive decline. The report notes that a healthy diet and engaging in lifelong learning may also reduce the risk (see image at right).
To date, the only risk factors conclusively associated with dementia, according to the report, are formal education (more of it reduces the risk) and moderate to severe traumatic brain injury (it increases the risk). However, physical activity and cardiovascular risk management may also reduce the risk of developing dementia.
The authors call for expanding efforts to raise awareness and educate the public on ways to decrease their risk of cognitive decline, including by governments. The Public Health Road Map, a guidebook for public health officials to promote cognitive functioning – which was jointly developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Healthy Aging Program and the Alzheimer’s Association – encourages disseminating evidence-based messages about risk reduction for preserving cognitive health (action item E-04). Brain Health as You Age: You Can Make A Difference!, from the Administration for Community Living, is one existing resource that public health professionals can use. You can also partner with your local Alzheimer's Association chapter to conduct workshops on ways individuals can care for their bodies and brains to age as well as possible.