The Secret To Preventing Dementia? Exercise Restraint

In my younger days, going on holiday meant tucking a toothbrush behind my ear, loading up on red wine for emergencies, and arriving at the airport with a millisecond to spare.

I have run for so many planes it is surprising I’ve not been invited to be something important on the Olympics committee.

Having reached my 50s, however, I’ve caught a bad case of caution. I started planning what to pack a fortnight beforehand, agonised endlessly over the best method of getting to the airport – ruinously expensive taxi versus cheap flea pit hotel nearby, frantic car dash from home versus exhausting struggle with luggage on public transport – and wrote endless lists, most of which I lost.

An unwelcome side effect of a life spent in professional dementia care is that as soon as I lose anything I start to worry, a middle-aged man’s fancy lightly turning to thoughts of Alzheimer’s disease. I comfort myself that all professionals, and a good proportion of lay people, have the same fear. So let’s do something practical to dispel the worry – list the precautionary measures that Alzheimer Scotland recommend in a recent leaflet, designed to reduce your chances of developing dementia.

The list suggests healthy eating, staying mentally active, keeping physically active, and maintaining social networks. It adds four more tips: regular healthchecks, stopping smoking, maintaining a healthy body weight, and drinking alcohol only in moderation. This is good advice and I recommend it to your attention. Even the impossible bits.

I suppose most of us try much harder than we used to. When not directly ambushed by bacon sandwiches or ice cream, my diet makes stern gestures towards health – often including lettuce, for instance. It is fortunate that red wine and chocolate are healthy, of course. Who can forget that particularly heartening bit of health advice, once read, never forgotten?

If desultory reading through Rough Guides, creative manipulation of credit card debts and worrying about routes to the airport count as staying mentally active, I’m ahead on that score, too. In terms of physical activity, I would be happier if I ran for more planes, but, like most people, I put effort into exercise, if only because I feel so sluglike and grim if I avoid it.

On maintaining social networks, I would give myself a gold star. Friends who have tried to throw me into the night after the party has long since ended know that my commitment is practically boundless.

Like most middle-aged men, I do not rush towards healthchecks, but I don’t fear them, only the embarrassment of talking to the doctor. Given time and determined self-hypnotism, I may grow out of this, too.

Smoking I can take or leave alone, despite the clumsy, mean-mindedness of recent legislation that has made me want to storm parliament, Churchillian cigar clenched between my teeth, to impale MPs on pitchforks. Good exercise, I’d suggest. Let’s all take it up.

Maintaining a healthy body weight I’m less sure about. I am middle aged, for God’s sake. I try hard not to get as fat as a barrel because if I go up one more trouser size I am relegated to the category where they have nothing for you on the rails and take you to one side to offer you elasticated-waist tracksuit bottoms. I’m perfectly happy to avoid wallowing in calories, but I am determined not to feel guilty about a bit of a pot belly.

Lastly, there is drinking alcohol only in moderation. Though it hurts me to say so, I suppose this is good advice. There are times when I try nobly to prove medical research in this area mistaken, but they tend to end in tears even more frequently than they used to.

I would add this one reservation: we all need pleasures to keep us going. I’d ask the admirable Alzheimer Scotland to remind us of what we ought to be doing, by all means, but to remember that moderation itself is only healthy in moderation.

That is a thought I’ll keep close to me for the next couple of weeks.

· Christopher Manthorp is a project director for the reprovision of homes and sheltered housing for older people. He is writing in a personal capacity