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Study of 2,500 Caerphilly men finds healthy lifestyle cuts risk of dementia by 60%

Published in News on Thursday October 30th, 2014. Last updated at 12:00

By Gareth Hill

TAKE CARE: The study analysed 2,235 men in Caerphilly. Picture by Tony Alter

TAKE CARE: The study analysed 2,235 men in Caerphilly. Picture by Tony Alter

A 35-year study into men’s health in Caerphilly has found healthy living reduces the risk of dementia, heart attacks, cancer and strokes.

In 1979, 2,235 men aged 45 to 59 from the Caerphilly, Machen, Trethomas, Senghenydd and Abertridwr agreed to have their health and lifestyles analysed.

The research has since been extrapolated for use across the UK.

But despite the “quality evidence” of the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, health in Wales has not improved and the head of the study has “challenged” the public to act.

The Welsh Government highlighted the “hard evidence” the research gives of the “damaging impact” of poor health choices.

The men were questioned, examined and had blood samples taken every five years to see how their lifestyles affected their health.

The groundbreaking Caerphilly Study found a 60% reduction in dementia among those who followed healthy traits – and 40% less cancer.

It found those who chose four out of five good health choices were 70% less likely to get diabetes and had a 60% reduced chance of suffering a stroke or heart attack, against those who chose none of the healthy behaviours.

Non-smoking, low weight, regular exercise, a plant based diet and alcohol consumption are identified as healthy behaviours.

Ahead of a conference to present the study’s results, Professor Peter Elwood, Study Lead, said that less than 1% of those surveyed followed the five behaviours and this has not improved, with 39% of the Welsh population unhealthy.

The Cardiff University professor said: “My belief is that people see they have got to do more exercise, eat healthily, not smoke, and drink within limits, but they are not motivated.

“From the results in Caerphilly we can make a very strong challenge that if every person was urged to take up one extra healthy behaviour – a small change to their lifestyle – and if only half did so, we’d see 12% less diabetes, 6% fewer heart attacks and strokes and 13% less people with dementia. There would be savings in the NHS of millions.

“The real gold dust is we can say for dementia that the men who chose a healthy lifestyle saw 60% fewer cases and those who did suffer, had it delayed by six to seven years.”

The conference, on October 30, will conclude with a lecture by Health Minister Mark Drakeford.

Mr Elwood said: “Mr Drakeford will say the challenge is not just for the NHS but for individuals to commit to a healthier lifestyle.

“That’s why the title [of the report] is Better Than Any Pill, the evidence shows a healthy lifestyle affects not just disease and physical health but increases enjoyment of life.”

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “Good health is everybody’s responsibility and while the Welsh Government is committed to supporting people to live more healthily, people must also take responsibility for their own health.

“The Caerphilly Study is hard evidence of the damaging impact of smoking, eating unhealthily, high alcohol intake, lack of regular exercise and an unhealthy body weight.

“Those who avoided these activities were healthier, had less illnesses and lived a longer life with better mental health and wellbeing.”

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