Doing exercise is important at any age – but a study has suggested that getting fit during middle age is key for staving off dementia.
Research, published in the journal PLOS Medicine, showed that those who lead an active lifestyle in their 40s and 50s successfully lowered their risk of the condition decades later.
The scientists also found that other contributors to a healthy heart, including eating and drinking healthily as well as quitting smoking and cutting salt intake, also played an important role.
Experts at Oxford University and University College London – who tracked the health of 10,000 British people for 36 years – suggested the findings showed how crucial making positive changes in middle age can be.
Additionally, it has traditionally been thought that dementia could be staved off by keeping the brain active, such as through learning a new language or doing crosswords.
However, the study emphasised how important heart health also was in reducing risk of the condition, which recently took the life of Dame Barbara Windsor.
In the UK, more than 920,000 people are currently living with dementia, with the vast majority aged over 65.
It is feared the number of sufferers will reach the one million mark by 2025.
According to the NHS, common early symptoms of dementia include memory loss, difficulty concentrating and mood changes.
Dr Scott Chiesa, research associate at the UCL Institute of Cardiovascular Science, said that making healthy changes sooner rather than later could make a huge difference.
He said: “It’s very much a case of early prevention for maximum gain... when you’re young, you’ve got to start thinking about the long-term consequences, rather than wait until you get old and hope someone cures you.”
The study is the first to link faster aortic stiffening in midlife to older age with poorer brain health.
While it stiffens naturally with age, other factors – like smoking and a poor diet – can cause the process to occur faster.