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Can a healthier body really lead to a healthier mind?

Deepak Jobanputra, VitalityLife Managing Director

Updated: 30th December 2020

There are growing signs that positive lifestyle decisions taken now could lead to positive effects on mental capacity in later life.

Vitality’s Deepak Jobanputra examines the emerging evidence.

I don’t know about you, but with the steady stream of stories nowadays on the growing prevalence of dementia, I imagine I’m not the only one to think: ‘Is that what my future holds?’.

Of course, to an extent there’s no way of knowing. After all, we’re all living longer and age is the biggest risk factor for the onset of dementia. But as a natural optimist, I’m also starting to gain increasing reassurance from the growing body of evidence suggesting that the more you look after yourself physically now, the more likely you are to reap the rewards on your mental capacity tomorrow.

Take exercise, for example. According to a number of studies looking at middle-aged people and the effects of physical activity on their thinking and memory in later life, it’s possible to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s by 45%. For dementia, that figure is about 30%1. Exercise can also play a role in improving the ability to perform daily activities such as dressing, cleaning and cooking.

On the nutritional side, we all know now that a diet high in saturated fat, salt and sugar can increase your risk of high blood pressure, obesity and type 2 diabetes. What’s less well known perhaps is that these medical conditions are linked to a higher risk of Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia, too. So adopting healthier eating habits – such as a Mediterranean-style diet – could also play a major role in maintaining good later-life cognitive health2.

With alcohol consumption, the link between drink and dementia may not yet be entirely conclusive. However, one study carried out over a period of 43 years has found that if you drink more than 12 grams of alcohol a day, it will increase your chances of developing dementia3. The same study also found that drinking spirits increased your chances of developing dementia more than wine or beer.

Then there’s smoking: more and more studies are starting to highlight the relationship between it and dementia. For instance, one meta-analysis found that smokers are more at risk of developing the condition4. The same analysis shows that quitting smoking can significantly reduce your risk of developing dementia.

For me, therefore, the key is to introduce an element of awareness into your day. Keep enjoying life, by all means. Just keep doing the healthy things, too, because they don’t only boost your chances on dementia, they give you that feeling of physical wellbeing as well, which I personally love. At the same time, for an extra little layer of reassurance – not just for you, but your family as well – it’s also worth factoring in an element of financial readiness, because it’s always good to be prepared.

It’s an approach we at Vitality have spent a lot of time considering. As the insurer that rewards healthy habits, we’ve always helped our members form and maintain the positive lifestyle behaviours that can lead to a longer life spent in better physical – and hopefully mental – health. We’ve also consistently moved the protection world forward into new, more relevant areas.

As a result, given the increasing scale of dementia – not to mention the need to try and address what could become a huge social care issue – that’s why we offer unique cover for later life conditions through our Later Life Options.

Later Life Options provide two levels of protection - Dementia and FrailCare Cover and Dementia and FrailCare Cover Plus. It’s an integrated product, available on Serious Illness Cover at no additional underwriting, that will help towards the cost of care in later life for sufferers of dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, stroke or general frailty.

For the duration of the cover term, members enjoy the highest levels of Serious Illness Cover protection. Then, when the term ends, by continuing to pay the same premium, it automatically converts into one of our Later Life Options to help support you for later life care.

What’s more, by staying active and maintaining healthy lifestyle habits, it’ll also hopefully contribute towards you never developing the condition in the first place. Of course, I accept that no plan can ever fully insulate or prepare you for the impact of dementia. But if it helps you minimise the risk – and offers a measure of financial protection – isn’t that what the best insurance plans are supposed to do? 

1. https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/about-dementia/risk-factors-and-prevention/physical-exercise
2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28657600
3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25881581
4. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0118333

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