woman in her 60's exercising in a park

Healthy Lifestyle Lowers Risk of Alzheimer’s in People With High Genetic Risk

By | July 15th, 2019

By living a healthy lifestyle, people with a high genetic risk of Alzheimer’s can lower their risk of getting the disease. That’s according to new research published in the journal JAMA and revealed at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference this week.

This is the first study ever to analyze how much a person can reduce their risk of Alzheimer’s by following a healthy lifestyle.

Healthy Lifestyle Habits Reduce Alzheimer’s Risk by 32%

The study, led by Elzbieta Kuźma, PhD, and David J. Llewellyn, PhD, found that people with a high genetic risk of Alzheimer’s disease were three times more likely to develop the disease if they lived an unhealthy lifestyle. On the flip side, those who followed a healthy diet, exercised, didn’t smoke and drank moderately or not at all were 32 percent less likely to get Alzheimer’s.

And in fact, the findings hold true, no matter your genetic risk. Following healthy recommendations lowers anybody’s risk of dementia.

“This research is exciting in that it shows there are actionable things we can do to try to counteract genetic risk for dementia,” said Kuźma, a research fellow at the University of Exeter Medical School.

The study followed 196,383 people, age 60 and over, for eight years. They were grouped according to their genetic risk for Alzheimer’s – high, intermediate and low.  They also grouped the participants by their lifestyle habits: favorable, intermediate and unfavorable. The study also took into account other lifestyle factors, such as age, education level, and socioeconomic status. During the study, the researchers diagnosed 1,769 cases of dementia.

To Prevent Dementia, What Constitutes a Healthy Lifestyle?

A healthy or favorable lifestyle score was judged by the following:

  • Do you currently smoke?
  • Do you get 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week?
  • Do you follow at least four of the seven following dietary guidelines:
    • Three or more servings of fruit a day?
    • Three or more servings of vegetables a day?
    • Three or more servings of whole grains per day?
    • No more than one and a half servings of refined grains per day?
    • Two or more servings of fish per week?
    • One or fewer servings of processed meat per week?
    • No more than one and a half servings of red meat per week?
  • Do you limit alcohol to no more than one drink a day, for women, or two drinks a day, for men?

Among those who followed a healthy lifestyle, 1.13% developed dementia, compared to 1.78% of those with less favorable lifestyle habits, which sounds small because of its sample size, but is actually quite significant. It amounts to lessening your risk of Alzheimer’s by one-third just by adhering to healthy habits.

“This research delivers a really important message that undermines a fatalistic view of dementia. Some people believe it’s inevitable they’ll develop dementia because of their genetics. However, it appears that you may be able to substantially reduce your dementia risk by living a healthy lifestyle,” explained Llewellyn, from the University of Exeter Medical School and the Alan Turing Institute.

Read Next: To Prevent Alzheimer’s, Science Suggests Sticking to These 2 Diets

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