Despite having a genetic risk for the diseases, a newly published study found that certain healthy habits offset the risk, indicating that how you live life has a huge influence on whether dementia will ultimately be a part of it.
The study was led by the University of Exeter - simultaneously published today in JAMA and presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference 2019 in Los Angeles. "In our study, adherence to a healthy lifestyle was associated with a reduced risk of dementia regardless of the genetic risk".
No significant interaction between genetic risk and lifestyle factors were identified by investigators.
The study looked at 196,383 adults age 60 and older who lived in the United Kingdom and found that specifically, 1.13% of those with a healthy lifestyle developed dementia later in life compared with 1.78% of those with a less healthy lifestyle - a statistically significant difference.
"I was delighted to see that the lifestyle choices which appear to work against dementia are those which we know to be beneficial also for reducing the risks of other chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease and cancer". The study has a number of limitations including that it can not show causality, lifestyle factors were self-reported and the study was restricted to adults of European ancestry so it may not be generalizable to other populations.
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People who adopted four or five healthy lifestyle habits - a healthy diet, at least 150 minutes a week of moderate to vigorous physical activity, light to moderate drinking, no smoking, and engaging in mentally stimulating activity - reduced their risk of developing Alzheimer's by 60% compared to people who had only one of those healthier behaviors.
The study, published in the JAMA medical journal, involved tracking almost 200,000 British people, all of European ancestry and aged 60 and older.
"Our results clearly show that it is possible to notably reduce the inherited dementia risk by our own actions", she said.
Notably, participants who were at a high risk of dementia and led an unhealthy lifestyle were three times more likely to develop dementia in comparison to someone with a low genetic risk who led a healthy lifestyle.
Researcher Dr David Llewellyn said: 'Some people believe it's inevitable they'll develop dementia due to their genetics. There is considerable evidence that individuals who avoid smoking tobacco, are physically active, drink alcohol in moderation, and have a healthy diet have a lower dementia risk.
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Still, the results should give hope to people anxious about their Alzheimer's risk - and an incentive to adopt healthy life habits, one expert said.
A hypothetical example of someone considered to be living a healthy lifestyle would be someone who does not now smoke, and cycles at a normal pace for two-and-a-half hours a week.
About 50 million people have dementia, and Alzheimer's disease is the most common type.
The UK Biobank study was long-term research of older individuals that tracks several factors that contribute to a range of diseases, which include heart disease, cancer, depression, and dementia.
"So hit that salad bar, swap a cocktail for a mocktail and get your exercise kit on".
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