- Landmark UK study tracked the lives of 2,500 men for 35 years
- Researchers asked men to follow a five-step healthy living plan
- They were urged to take regular exercise, not smoke, maintain a healthy weight, eat a good diet and have a low alcohol intake
- Study, which started in South Wales in 1979, is longest of its kind to examine the influence of environmental factors in chronic disease
- Found dementia could be delayed by 12 years and heart disease by six
Living a healthy lifestyle could delay dementia by up to 12 years, according to a landmark UK study.
Heart disease could also be staved off by around six years compared with those who neglect their diet and exercise, said the health specialists.
The project tracking the lives of 2,500 men for 35 years pinpointed five steps in leading a long and disease-free life which mirror growing evidence about the benefits of healthy living. They are: taking regular exercise, not smoking, having a healthy bodyweight, eating a good diet and having a low alcohol intake.
The study in South Wales is the longest of its kind to examine the influence of environmental factors in chronic disease.
From 1979 to the present day, researchers from Cardiff University followed the lifestyle habits of men aged 45-59 living in the Caerphilly area.
A landmark study carried out in South Wales over 35 years found living a healthy lifestyle could delay dementia by up to 12 years, while heart disease could be staved off by six years. File picture
They found that those who followed four or five of the specified healthy steps were 60 per cent less likely to develop dementia.
There was a similar reduction in the risk of heart attacks and strokes, along with 40 per cent fewer cancers.
There was also a 70 per cent cut in the risk of diabetes, according to evidence presented yesterday at a Healthy Ageing summit run by the university.
Professor Peter Elwood, who has led the School of Medicine study since its inception, said the findings were a wake-up call.
Thirty years ago, only 30 men in our study followed all five of our recommended healthy steps, he said.
Although following these steps does not give them complete protection against disease, the men who, despite living healthily, developed a disease did so at a much older age than the men neglectful of their lifestyle.
Thus the development of heart disease was delayed by up to six years and it was up to around an additional 12 years before dementia took its grip.
On the less rosy end of the spectrum, 40 men in every 100 lived a life so neglectful that by any definition their lifestyle was unhealthy. They experienced none of the reductions in disease.
He added: The appalling fact is that recent surveys across the whole of Wales yield almost identical proportions of men and women following the healthy and unhealthy lifestyles found in Caerphilly 35 years ago.
‘And the picture isnt much better in England: 53 per cent of men drink more than the recommended amount and only half of men meet the government-recommended scores for well-being.
Researchers examined a group of 2,500 men, starting in 1979. They encourage the participants to take regular exercise, maintain a healthy body weight and refrain from smoking. File picture
The men taking part were also asked to eat a healthy diet and keep their alcohol intake to a minimum
The advice given by the project has become familiar from other research showing that staying slim, eating lots of fruit and vegetables, exercising regularly, drinking in moderation and never smoking boosts longevity.
The Caerphilly participants come from a community where consumption of fruit and vegetables was low, so three or more portions a day was accepted as healthy.
Fat making up less than 30 per cent of calories was classed as a good diet.
Those regarded as physically active were walking two or more miles or cycling ten or more to work each day, or taking vigorous exercise regularly.
Low alcohol consumption was defined as three or fewer units per day, with abstinence not treated as healthy behaviour.
Clare Walton, of the Alzheimers Society which part-funded the project, said: These studies are expensive and complicated but essential to understand how dementia can be prevented.
The Caerphilly research was a pilot for the much larger UK BIOBANK study involving more than 500,000 Britons. This is led by Professor John Gallacher, who also works at Cardiff.
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- ^ Jenny Hope for the Daily Mail (www.dailymail.co.uk)
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