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12/10/2013 11:57 am ET

Exercise Reduces Men's Risk Of Dementia And Chronic Disease, Study Shows

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Exercise now and you'll surely reap ceaseless rewards later, a new study suggests. Men with healthy habits, including regular exercise, are 60 percent less likely to suffer from dementia and cognitive decline later in life, according to findings in a Welsh study.

Researchers at Cardiff University followed 2,235 men between ages 45 and 59 for 35 years, recording their health behaviors as part of the Caerphilly Cohort Study, and found those who had had at least four to five healthy lifestyle habits also mitigated their risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes by 70 percent. The healthy behaviors include regular exercise, not smoking, a healthy body weight, a balanced diet, and low alcohol consumption.

While we've always thought of prevention as the best cure, researchers say that -- rather -- a healthy lifestyle is the real best cure. "If the men had been urged to adopt just one additional healthy behavior at the start of the study 35 years ago, and if only half of them complied, then during the ensuing 35 years there would have been a 13 percent reduction in dementia, a 12 percent drop in diabetes, 6 percent less vascular disease, and a 5 percent reduction in deaths," lead researcher Peter Elwood said in a release.

But even if you start exercise later in life, you still have plenty to gain. A recent study found that older adults who started to exercise as little as once a week were three to four times as likely to age healthily, The Huffington Post reported. Later exercisers reduced their risk of diabetes, dementia, and physical disabilities.

Researchers say they are optimistic that the findings will help encourage people of all ages to make healthy lifestyle choices and understand how decisions can affect health down the road.

"We have known for some time that what is good for your heart is also good for your head," Doug Brown, director of research and development at the Alzheimer's Society said in a statement. "This study provides more evidence to show that healthy living could significantly reduce the chances of developing dementia."

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