The biological level ageing results from the impact of the accumulation of a wide variety of molecular and cellular damage over time. But these changes are neither linear nor consistent, and they are only loosely associated with a person’s age in years. There is no ‘typical’ older person and some 80 year-olds have physical and mental capacities similar to many 20 year-olds.
However, as we grow older our bodies are changing. We may grow a little rounder around the waistline, or wake in the night, or feel a little stiffer in the morning. Most of us have to start to use glasses, and slowly our hear turns grey. Some even loose it. As we grow older increased forgetfulness that not is impairing our daily life is considered to be a part of the normal aging process. Generally, information processing also slows as we grow older, and older people have more trouble multitasking. However, research find that problems with memory, language, thinking and judgment that are greater than normal age-related changes, also called cognitive impairment may increase the risk of later progressing to dementia. Still, some people with mild cognitive impairment never get worse, and a few eventually get better.
Read also: Exercise for a healthy brain
Nevertheless, the pace of population ageing around the world is increasing dramatically and the global prevalence of dementia is predicted to increase substantially from an estimated 35.6 million in 2010 to 65.7 million in 2030, and 115.4 million in 2050 (Jama). The burden of mild cognitive impairment is even expected to be larger. Because the lack of medical treatment against dementia promoting successful cognitive aging is a topic of major importance to individuals and the field of public health (CERG blog).
As physical inactivity is associated with most of the risk factors for dementia, including depression, midlife obesity, midlife hypertension, and diabetes – efforts to increase physical activity levels throughout our life could potentially have a dramatic effect on dementia prevalence over time.
In the Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability (FINGER) a 2 year multidomain intervention of diet, exercise, cognitive training, and vascular risk monitoring versus control was tested in individuals 60-77 years old. The physical exercise program consisted of individually tailored programs for muscle strength training 1-3 times per week and aerobic exercise 2-5 times per week, including exercises to improve balance. The authors found significant intervention effects on overall cognition and other specific domains of cognitive function suggesting that a multidomain intervention could improve or maintain cognitive function in at-risk elderly people from the general population. These results are in line with recent published results from the American NHANES Study where the authors found that the combination of physical inactivity and an unhealthy diet increased the risk of poor health related quality of life and premature death significantly more compared to having only one “bad” health behavior (physical active with an unhealthy diet or physical inactive with a healthy diet.
These studies illustrate the importance of meeting not only one but several specific behaviors to promote healthy aging. Further, and most promising, it is never too late to change a bad habit or to adopt a new one.
Linda Ernstsen, Postdoc at CERG