Small lifestyle changes dramatically lower dementia risk

You can slow age-related cognitive decline through simple lifestyle changes, according to a new observational study from Finland.

I find this news particularly encouraging in light of failure after failure from big pharma in terms of dementia drugs. (Of course, we can at least partially attribute the failure of these drugs to mainstream medicine’s flawed theory about the real causes of dementia, as I recently reported.)

Professor Miia Kivipelto, from one of the best medical centers in the world–the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden–led this study, known as the FINGER trial. It stands for Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability. And once again, the Scandinavians have put their finger on it.

Ethnic Swedes make up approximately 6 percent of the population of Finland, facilitating close collaborations between Finland and Sweden. Both Sweden and Finland are small Scandinavian countries with only a fraction of the population and research budget of the U.S. Nevertheless, I find them frequently on the forefront of the real science when it comes to chronic conditions like cancer or dementia.

When I worked at the National Cancer Institute, one of our most productive collaborations was with Finnish researchers. For example, they quickly moved beyond the ridiculous BMI (body mass index) as a way of assessing the risks of excess body size, weight and fat tissue.

They also established the benefits of dietary selenium supplementation. Furthermore, they understood and accepted the fact that iron supplementation is a risk for cancer long before the U.S. took it seriously. In fact, long after Finland and Sweden restricted iron supplementation, so-called “experts” at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) criticized my work with Nobel laureate Baruch Blumberg that linked excess iron in the U.S. population with significantly increased risk of all-sites cancer in both men and women.

Eventually, we published our findings in the New England Journal of Medicine, and the International Journal of Epidemiology. So at least they couldn’t ignore us any longer.

Yet, astoundingly, some CDC experts still don’t accept the real science about iron. And, apparently, many government political-science bureaucrats still make careers and good livings from giving out more faulty government dietary recommendations. I recommend following the example of the healthy Finns and Swedes and never taking a dietary supplement with iron (unless you have been diagnosed by a doctor as suffering from iron-deficiency anemia).

Back to the new Finnish study at hand…

Researchers recruited 1,260 people ages 60 to 77 years from across Finland. They randomly divided the men and women into two groups. The first group received multiple lifestyle interventions. The control group received only regular health advice.

The lifestyle interventions included four major aspects: physical exercise, nutritional training, cognitive training, and risk factor monitoring.

Physical exercise consisted of individually tailored programs for progressive muscle strength training one to three times per week and aerobic exercise two to five times per week.

Nutritional guidelines were provided according to the Finnish Nutrition Recommendations and administered by study nutritionists in three individual sessions and seven to nine group sessions.

Cognitive training consisted of 10 group sessions with a trained therapist  and individual sessions of computer-based training of 10 to 15 minutes each, three times per week. Over 12 months, the men and women participated in 72 sessions. That figure may seem like a lot, but it averages to less than two sessions per week throughout the year. Plus, as I recently reported in the February 2015 issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter, these sessions need not–and should not–be performed every day. (If you’re a subscriber, you can find this archived issue by logging onto my website with your username and password. And if you’re not a subscriber, now is the perfect time to get started.) It’s also important to note that brain-training exercises don’t have to involve performing computer games. Anything that challenges the brain–such as memory games, puzzles, problem solving, time tests and learning new skills–helps “train” the brain.

The researchers also monitored the participants’ cardiovascular and metabolic risk factors. They monitored blood pressure as well as weight, hip and waist circumferences. In fact, they used some of the anthropometric measurements we developed in our collaborations with Finnish researchers many years before in my own studies. The study physicians didn’t prescribe any drugs but recommended participants see their own physicians as indicated.

At the end of two years, the lifestyle intervention group had a 25 percent improvement in overall cognitive assessments compared to the control group. The researchers noted particular benefits in executive functions and mental processing abilities. In fact, executive functioning improved by 83 percent. And mental processing ability improved by a whopping 150 percent!

Instead of the helpless, hopeless approach of mainstream medicine, these results show you can reduce your dementia risk just like other chronic disease, such as diabetes and heart disease, by simply following healthy lifestyle interventions.

In fact, following a healthy lifestyle is a win-win for prevention of heart disease, the complications of diabetes, and dementia. The researchers estimate small changes in managing these factors can translate to a reduction of 10 percent per decade in the prevalence of dementia. Delaying dementia by this much would have huge benefits both for individuals…and society as a whole.


  1. “A 2 year multi-domain intervention of diet, exercise, cognitive training, and vascular risk monitoring versus control to prevent cognitive decline in at-risk elderly people (FINGER): a randomized controlled trial,” Lancet ( published on-line 3/12/2015
  1. “Lifestyle Intervention Slows Cognitive Decline in Randomized Trial,” Medscape ( 3/11/2015