“…unhealthy behaviors lie at the root of many chronic and disabling diseases.” Major concerns are smoking, body mass, physical activity, diet and alcohol use. This seems to be true of both mental and physical health, but few long-term studies have been done. Still, overall adherence to healthy lifestyles has been poor in most cases.
The Caerphilly Prospective Study involved a group of men in a small town in South Wales, UK. They were studied for 30 years for a variety of diseases, including cognitive impairment and dementia, as well as for adherence to healthy behaviors. The men were reevaluated every 5 years, and in follow-ups the men were questioned and studied for cognitive decline.
For this study the 5 healthy behaviors included not smoking, a BMI (body mass index) of 18-24, eating at least 3 fruits or vegetables per day, walking 2 miles or bicycling 10 miles per day, and no more than 3 alcoholic drinks per day.
Lifestyle was scored as the number of healthy behaviors followed by each person. Of the group of men, 89% were non-smokers, 35% had a healthy BMI of 18 to 24, 18% ate 3 or more portions of fruit and/or vegetables per day, 39% had regular exercise, and 59% drank 3 or less units of alcohol per day. Of the total, 8% followed none of the healthy behaviors, 31% followed one behavior, 36% followed two, 19% followed 3, 5% followed four, and 0.1% followed all five.
As the number of healthy behaviors increased, the risk of diabetes declined, and the same is true for vascular disease. Overall mortality was reduced with increased healthy behaviors. (Cancer was not related to lifestyle in this study, except for a benefit from not smoking.) Importantly, healthy lifestyle is a predictor of good cognitive behavior and low levels of dementia. Exercise is an especially important factor.
“For vascular disease, men following two, three and four healthy behaviors had delays of approximately 9.3, 10.8, and 11.9 years respectively. For mortality, the delays were 2.5, 4.6 and 6.3 years respectively.” Healthy lifestyles were associated with about a 60% reduction in cognitive impairment and dementia. Over time, smoking declined, more fruits and vegetables were eaten, being overweight increased and exercising declined. The men tended to not develop more healthy lifestyles over time.
CONCLUSION: It is clear that healthy lifestyles reduce cognitive impairment and dementia with aging in males. Unfortunately, it appears that men develop less healthy lifestyles in general as they age.
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