The Hisayama Study, an ongoing investigation of a suburban Japanese community, has found that smoking in mid to late life not only raises the risk of lung cancer, but also ups the chance of developing dementia. Smokers who quit, even in their 40s or 50s, didn’t see the same rise in risk.
Don’t binge on booze (or go teetotal)
Too much is bad, but so is too little. The latest large studies on alcohol consumption suggest that those who drink excessively or give up completely are more likely to suffer cognitive decline. Those who drink moderately fare better.
Don’t retire early
The Whitehall Study, which followed some 3500 UK civil servants as they aged, found that retirement seemed to accelerate cognitive decline, especially related to verbal memory. (Yes, this is a sweeping statement – it depends what you do in retirement. My wife and I wrote music for twenty years, which is excellent for the brain, hers, anyway).
Don’t gulp down sugar
Even one extra sugary drink a day is associated with having significantly reduced total brain volume. That was the finding of a 2017 study looking at nearly 4000 people. That drink also worsened memories of personal experiences.
Don’t lose those last few pounds
Being a healthy weight is an all-round good idea. But don’t go too far. A study that investigated the diets of some 2 million people over 20 years found that, compared with people of a healthy weight, underweight people had a 34 per cent higher risk of getting dementia. ( New Scientist 26 Jan 2019)
All these studies do seem to have one underlying idea or conclusion behind them : no need to metaphorically wear sackcloth and ashes and be miserable in pursuit of health. Do what you enjoy, but do it moderately. This is what Epicurus was teaching in ancient Athens.