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Workplace Wellbeing

WHO study says a healthier lifestyle reduces dementia risk

New guidelines to reduce the risk of dementia were published by the World Health Organisation (WHO) recently, stating that a healthier lifestyle will reduce the risk of dementia.

In response to this growing public health problem, expected to reach USD$2 trillion in the next 10 years, the WHO provide public health guidelines to mitigate the impact of cognitive decline through addressing risk factors.

The guidelines show that while ageing is the strongest known risk factor for cognitive decline, it’s not an inevitable consequence of celebrating a lot of birthdays. There are other factors at play; like genes, family history, gender and ethnic background.

The positive news is that there are a range of lifestyle factors that can lower the risk or slow cognitive decline or dementia.

This approach is shared by our own Science Advisory Board Member and Occupational Health Consultant, Dr David Batman. In his recent webinar, focusing on stress and mental health, he shares his long-held view that around 70% of ill-health can be managed through lifestyle behaviours.

Some of the WHO’s strongest recommendations include increased physical activity, better nutrition and more social activity.

Physical Activity

Regular exercise is great for brain health. More physically active people are less likely to develop cognitive decline, dementia and Alzheimer diseases. All good reasons to get moving.

It doesn’t take marathon training to achieve benefits. If you’re between 18-64, just 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity will net benefits – or 300 minutes if you’d like some additional benefits.

In 2018, just under 30% of members who began the Virgin Pulse Global Challenge program were considered inactive on a daily basis, taking less than 5,000 steps per day. After the first 100 days of the behavioural change program, more than half were achieving 12,000 steps or more. In addition, 80% of all members said the program had improved their relationship with exercise through daily lifestyle behaviour changes.

Whitepaper: Minds at work: Increasing brainpower through exercise


Diet choices can help prevent conditions that increase the risk of dementia such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Diet might also play a more direct role in changes to the brain through foods like fish oil, nuts and coffee, or nutrients like vitamins E and C.

Overall, the WHO recommends a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Results from the 2018 Global Challenge show that after the program, there was a 21% improvement in members eating a healthy breakfast each morning, and a 49% improvement in members consuming the recommended amount of fruit and vegetables each day.

Quick Read: Help your people foster a healthy relationship with food

Social Activity

Though the direct link between personal connections and the risk of dementia is unclear, social participation and support are important for health and wellbeing. Lower social participation, less frequent social contact and loneliness are associated with higher rates of dementia.

Technology may be connecting people like never before, but humans still need personal connections and meaningful relationships, at home and at work. There’s also growing evidence that friends and family have a huge effect on our health choices.

Almost 25% of members in the 2018 Global Challenge joined simply to be involved with their team, or because colleagues were encouraging them to join. And adding to the ripple effect of health behaviours, half reported they were getting their friends and family out walking more.

Webinar: Back to Human: How great leaders create connection in the age of isolation