May 14, 2019
2 min read

WHO: Exercise, smoking cessation, healthy diet reduce dementia risk

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WHO has released its first guidelines on reducing the risk for cognitive decline and dementia for health care providers, governments, policy-makers and other stakeholders, according to a press release.

In the guidelines, WHO offered recommendations on healthy behaviors to reduce the risk for dementia, including regular exercise, abstaining from tobacco use, keeping a healthy diet, and maintaining healthy blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

“Within the next 30 years, the number of people with dementia is set to triple. In parallel, the costs of caring for people with dementia is expected to more than double, to U.S. $2 trillion annually by 2030,” Neerja Chowdhary, MD, technical officer in the dementia team of WHO’s department of mental health and substance abuse, told Healio Psychiatry. “In recent years, individual studies have suggested that there is much that people can do to reduce the risk of dementia. These guidelines confirm the results of these studies, and provide concrete recommendations based on expert review of all available evidence.”

Recommendations included:

  • physical activity interventions;
  • tobacco cessation interventions;
  • nutritional interventions, such as Mediterranean-like diet;
  • reducing or ceasing hazardous and harmful drinking;
  • weight management, like intervention relating to midlife overweight and/or obesity;
  • cognitive training; and
  • management of hypertension, diabetes mellitus and cholesterol.

In addition, vitamins B and E, polyunsaturated fatty acids and multi-complex supplementation should not be recommended to reduce the risk for cognitive decline and/or dementia.

Prior evidence has shown a link between cognitive impairment and dementia and unhealthy lifestyle-related risk factors, like physical inactivity, tobacco use, poor diets and heavy drinking.

old people exercising 
Source:Adobe Stock

There is insufficient evidence for social activity as well as management of depression and hearing loss as a way to reduce the risk of cognitive decline/dementia; however, social participation and support are strongly linked to good health and well-being, antidepressants and/or psychological interventions are recommended to adults with depression, and screening followed by provision of hearing aids should be offered to older adults if needed, according to the guidelines.

“We encourage clinicians to use the guidelines as the basis for advising patients on what they can do to help prevent cognitive decline and dementia,” Chowdhary told Healio Psychiatry. “In particular, people can reduce their risk of dementia by getting regular exercise, not smoking, avoiding harmful use of alcohol, controlling their weight, eating a healthy diet, and maintaining healthy blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

“The guidelines will also be useful for governments, policymakers and planning authorities to guide them in developing policy and designing programs that encourage healthy lifestyles,” she said.

These guidelines align with WHO’s mandate to offer evidence-based guidance for a public health response to dementia, according to the summary. – by Savannah Demko


WHO. Risk reduction of cognitive decline and dementia: WHO guidelines. Available at: Accessed on May 10, 2019.

Disclosure: Healio Psychiatry was unable to confirm any relevant financial disclosures at the time of publication.