Active lifestyles may ward off dementia, research suggests

Learning French, volunteering and gardening in middle-age: The lifestyle hacks that could help ‘ward off dementia’, according to science

  • Brighton and Sussex Medical School study tracked 1,200 Brits over their lives 
  • Found those who did six brain-stimulating activities had best brains at age 69 
  • Learning new skills in their 40s also helped ward off the condition in old age

Learning a new language, volunteering and gardening in middle-age are among the activities that could protect against dementia, a study claimed today.

Brighton and Sussex Medical School researchers said an ‘intellectually, socially and physically active lifestyle’ may keep the memory-robbing condition at bay.

The study tracked nearly 1,200 Brits over their lifetimes to see how their habits and education levels impacted their brain performance in old age.

It found those who kept up at least six brain-stimulating activities through their lives had the best cognitive performance in their late 60s.

Researchers claimed people learning new skills, such as the ability to speak French or German, in their 40s ‘may help ward off cognitive decline and dementia’.

Around 900,000 people are thought to be living with dementia in the UK, with rates expected to increase with an ageing population. The figure is around seven times higher in the US, charities say. 

An array of studies have linked keeping up reading, writing and playing games with delaying the cruel condition’s onset by up to five years, simply by keeping the brain healthy.

Learning a new language, volunteering and gardening in middle-age are among the activities that could help ward off dementia, a study by Brighton and Sussex Medical School claimed today [stock image]

Pre-eclampsia may raise the risk of dementia later in life, a trio of studies suggested today.

One set of researchers from Minnesota found women who suffer the condition end up having more toxic clumps in their blood, a hallmark sign of Alzheimer’s. 

A separate University of Utah study showed those with high blood pressure — which happens in pre-eclampsia — during pregnancy had a 64 per cent higher risk of going on to develop vascular dementia.

Meanwhile, a Dutch study suggested expectant mothers who suffered hypertension saw their brain tissue wear away 38 per cent more than those without pre-eclampsia or high blood pressure.

Kim Kardashian and Beyonce both suffered from pre-eclampsia, which is thought to affect around 5 per cent of pregnancies in Britain and the US.

It causes expectant mothers to suffer high blood pressure, which previous research has shown can lead to heart disease later in life.

The new study, published in the journal Neurology, examined various factors which could lead to cognitive decline.

It involved some 1,184 participants born in the UK in 1946.

Researchers examined each participant’s childhood cognition when they were eight years old.

They also looked at their ‘cognitive reserve’ — which combined their ‘educational attainment’ by the time they reached 26, their engagement in leisure activities when they were 43, and their occupation up to the age of 53.

Their reading ability was also assessed at 53.

When they turned 69, they were asked to take an exam that tested their cognitive abilities.

This test had a maximum score of 100 and the average score among participants was 92.

Researchers found that those who performed best in the cognition test for 69-year-olds were more likely to have had higher scores in assessments taken earlier in life — the childhood cognitive skills, the ‘cognitive reserve index’ and reading ability tests.

Those with a degree performed better than those who had no formal education.

But the team of academics found that continuing to learn over a lifetime may help protect the brain.

Participants who engaged in six or more leisure activities, such as adult education classes, clubs, volunteer work, social activities and gardening, scored higher than people who engaged in up to four leisure activities.

Study author Dr Dorina Cadar said: ‘These results are exciting because they indicate that cognitive ability is subject to factors throughout our lifetime, and taking part in an intellectually, socially and physically active lifestyle may help ward off cognitive decline and dementia.

‘It’s heartening to find that building up one’s cognitive reserve may offset the negative influence of low childhood cognition for people who might not have benefited from an enriching childhood, and offer stronger mental resilience until later in life.’

The authors also found that people who had ‘professional’ careers performed better in cognition tests when they were 69, compared with people who had ‘unskilled’ jobs.

Dr Michal Schnaider Beeri, a psychiatrist the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, said: ‘From a public health and societal perspective, there may be broad, long-term benefits in investing in high education [and] widening opportunities for leisure activities.’

There would also be value in ‘providing cognitive challenging activities for people, especially those working in less skilled occupations’, she added.

Katherine Gray, research communications manager at the Alzheimer’s Society, said: ‘This long-term Alzheimer’s Society-funded study adds to a popular theory that the more you regularly challenge your brain, the less likely you are to experience memory and thinking problems in your later years.

‘From childhood to adulthood, participants who kept their brain active, whether it’s in education, their career or by taking part in complex hobbies, had better thinking abilities by the age of 69.

‘It’s estimated that the number of people with dementia in the UK is set to rise to 1.6million by 2040. 

‘While there are many risk factors related to developing dementia, it is hopeful to know that engaging in mentally stimulating activities and finding ways to regularly challenge your brain can help reduce the development of memory and thinking problems in the future.’

It comes as a new study presented to the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in San Diego concluded that high blood pressure during pregnancy is linked to an increased risk of dementia.

Women who have high blood pressure when pregnant have a higher chance of being diagnosed with vascular dementia in later life, researchers said.

Commenting on the findings, Dr Rosa Sancho, head of research from Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: ‘High blood pressure is a risk factor for poor heart health, which has a knock-on effect on our brain health. 

‘This new research highlights the impact that high blood pressure and related disorders during pregnancy can have on women’s risk of developing dementia later in life.’


Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of neurological disorders


Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of progressive neurological disorders (those affecting the brain) which impact memory, thinking and behaviour. 

There are many different types of dementia, of which Alzheimer’s disease is the most common.

Some people may have a combination of types of dementia.

Regardless of which type is diagnosed, each person will experience their dementia in their own unique way.

Dementia is a global concern but it is most often seen in wealthier countries, where people are likely to live into very old age.


The Alzheimer’s Society reports there are more than 900,000 people living with dementia in the UK today. This is projected to rise to 1.6million by 2040.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, affecting between 50 and 75 per cent of those diagnosed.

In the US, it’s estimated there are 5.5 million Alzheimer’s sufferers. A similar percentage rise is expected in the coming years.

As a person’s age increases, so does the risk of them developing dementia.

Rates of diagnosis are improving but many people with dementia are thought to still be undiagnosed.


Currently there is no cure for dementia.

But new drugs can slow down its progression and the earlier it is spotted the more effective treatments are.

Source: Alzheimer’s Society 

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