Can we get higher risk adults to eat well and exercise?

Researchers at the University of East Anglia are exploring the effects of exercise and Mediterranean style diet on dementia risk

Researching

Risk

While there is currently no definitive way to prevent dementia, there are several lifestyle changes that may help to reduce the risk of the condition. We already know that what’s good for the heart is good for the brain. Eating well and exercising can help to keep cardiovascular disease at bay and it may also help to reduce the risk of getting dementia. With the number of people living with dementia in the UK on the rise its vital that effective methods to encourage lifestyle change are found to help lower the risk of dementia in later life.

This study aims to see if an interactive web based intervention with face to face group sessions could persuade people at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and memory problems to eat a Mediterranean style diet and exercise regularly. They will also look at data from two previous studies from the 1960s and 1990s to see if there was a link between a healthy diet and brain function. The findings could lead to the design of a larger trial to determine the effects of exercise and Mediterranean style diet on dementia risk.

Around a third of dementia cases are thought to be caused by lifestyle and health factors, which we may be able to modify. Risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure, obesity, lack of exercise and a poor diet are also risk factors for dementia, as when the blood vessels in the brain are in poor health this can affect brain cell function. With dementia prevalence in the UK predicted to rise to 1 million people by 2025, it’s important to identify the best approaches to encourage lifestyle change and promote healthy brain ageing to prevent dementia within at risk populations.

Professor Minihane’s team have designed a six month intervention to encourage people with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease to eat a Mediterranean style diet and take more exercise. If successful, this could lead to a much larger trial to determine the effects of exercise and a healthy eating on dementia risk.

The study will recruit 108 UK based volunteers between the ages of 55-74 who are at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and have previously reported memory complaints. These volunteers will be split into three groups with one group encouraged to eat a Mediterranean style diet, another encouraged to eat a Mediterranean style diet and do more exercise, and the third acting as a control. Over 24 weeks, the researchers will use interactive web based interventions along with regular researcher contact, food delivery services and group sessions to keep the volunteers on track and see if they can stick to a healthy lifestyle change.

The team will also be looking at two previous studies, using data from over 9000 people to see if they can untangle a link between a Mediterranean style diet and exercise with brain structure and dementia risk.

A scientist holding a model of a human brain

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Awarded to
Prof Anne Marie Minihane

Institution
University of East Anglia

Current Award
£762,189.88

Dates
1 January 2018 - 30 June 2018

Full project name
Diet, physical activity and dementia risk in UK adults: Epidemiology and MedEx feasibility study