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What is good for your heart is also good for your head

Whether you are an active duty service member looking to retire soon or you are already a military retiree, the lifestyle choices you make now can make a big difference on the activities you are able to enjoy in the future. A ground-breaking 35-year study funded by the Medical Research Council, the Alzheimer's Society and the British Heart Foundation has shown how a healthy lifestyle ultimately pays off in old age. In 1979, 2,235 men aged between 25 and 49 in Caerphilly, South Wales, were asked to follow this simple health regimen -- eat well, work out, drink less, keep their weight down and never smoke. This simple lifestyle appears to be the secret of a fit and happy old age for the 25 seniors who managed to stick to the plan for the last 35 years. These 25 seniors are all far fitter and healthier than the other volunteers who gave up living according to these healthy lifestyle recommendations.

The recommended physical activity was to walk two or more miles each day, cycle 10 or more miles each day, or engage in regular "vigorous" exercise, and drink in moderation. The volunteers gave regular reports of their physical activity, alcohol consumption, and diet; and every five years the men were re-questioned and their medical records re-examined by researchers to identify new cases of diabetes, heart disease and strokes. The researchers found the seniors who were non-smoking, at a healthy weight, ate a diet high in fruit and vegetables, achieved regular physical activity, and consumed a low to moderate amount of alcohol were associated with low incidence of certain chronic diseases. Initially the study focused on heart disease, but as time passed it was found that those who stuck to the plan had dramatically cut their risk of cancer, diabetes, heart-attack, stroke and dementia. Deciding to follow healthy life choices made an impact on preventing illnesses from developing in older age. Would these choices not be worth it in order to stave off disease and premature death, and spend a more satisfying life in old age?

Professor Peter Elwood, the study leader from Cardiff School of Medicine, said "We must wake up to the preventive power of living a healthy life. Healthy behavior was far more beneficial than any medical treatment or preventative procedure. Following these steps did not give them complete protection against disease, but the development of heart disease was delayed by up to 12 years, and up to around an additional six years before dementia took its grip.” Living according to these steps reduced the chances of dementia by up to 60 percent, with exercise having the single biggest influence on dementia levels. Professor Elwood stressed that while physical activity had more impact on certain illnesses, the emphasis of the study was on an overall healthy lifestyle. "Exercise happens to be the most important, but the other factors come in very close behind. We should all live a more active lifestyle,” he added.

Dr. Doug Brown from the Alzheimer's Society said, “We have known for some time that what is good for your heart is also good for your head, and this study provides more evidence to show that healthy living could significantly reduce the chances of developing dementia.”

Do the tenants of the healthy lifestyle in this study sound familiar? They should since it includes two of the key components of the Performance Triad of sleep, activity and nutrition. The DOD Healthy Base Initiative also focuses on improving two of the tenants in the Cardiff study – reducing tobacco use and improving nutrition. It is important to recognize that the extent to which someone is able to prevent illness lies in a person's own hands. Following a healthy lifestyle is the responsibility of the individual. Unfortunately, few people commit to following a fully healthy lifestyle. To learn more about how the military health system can support your personal choices to live a healthy lifestyle, visit the Performance Triad and the Healthy Base Initiative.