The Professor of the Psychiatry of Ageing at Edinburgh University was in Sydney for the International Dementia Conference recently, and his message was that the main tenets for good general health are most important for ageing and brain health too. And the sooner we follow a few golden rules, the better we will age.

“Evidence now suggests that decisions you make in mid-life will impact your chances of getting dementia, as well as your brain health after diagnosis,” says Prof Craig Ritchie. As well as keeping a balanced diet, Prof. Ritchie has three golden rules for healthy ageing:

  • What’s good for your heart is good for your head” should be the mantra for 40-59 year-olds. Good cardiovascular and respiratory exercise does much for brain health by supplying oxygen and nutrients to the brain. Prof Ritchie also believes sports and lifestyle patterns set in younger years can be crucial to brain health when continued in later life.
  • Get L-plates: As we age, the most important thing is to keep your mind active and nothing is more stimulating for the brain than learning something new. Prof Ritchie tells people in their 50s and 60s: “if you don’t play a musical instrument now’s the time. Dance and language lessons are highly regarded, too. “Your brain lights up more when learning new things rather than just repeating old skills,” he says.
  • Socialising should not be underrated: one of the most engaging things you can do is have a good conversation. “For seniors, the most important hole at the golf course could be the 19th.”

Professor Ritchie said preventing dementia means creating a society where older people are supported and encouraged to maintain good social lives.  “There’s only so much doctors and scientists can do. You’ve got to really engage both public and politicians in all of this,” he said.  Prof. Ritchie leads two international projects – PREVENT, which identifies mid-life risks for dementia, and the European Prevention of Alzheimer’s Dementia.