New research reveals that a healthy lifestyle can substantially reduce a person’s likelihood of developing dementia, even if they have a high genetic risk for the condition.
The study — presented this week at the Alzheimer’s Association annual meeting and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association — showed that, in people with a high risk, exercise, a healthy diet, moderate alcohol consumption, and not smoking was associated with a 32% drop in their likelihood of developing dementia.
“Just because you have a family history of dementia doesn’t mean that you are destined to get dementia yourself,” says Zaldy Tan the medical director of the University of California, Los Angeles Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care Program who was not involved in the research. “Having a genetic risk does not translate to inevitability of getting dementia. If anything, it empowers people to choose a healthier lifestyle in order to decrease their risk of developing the disease in the future.”
The findings offer renewed hope in the fight against dementia — the overarching term for a decline in mental ability that interferes with daily life — and Alzheimer’s disease. Over the last few years, multiple clinical trials for seemingly promising drugs to prevent or reverse the disease have failed. For the time being, lifestyle changes appear to be the only evidence-backed intervention.
The study used data from the U.K. Biobank to track 196,383 people aged 60 years and up who had no history of dementia to see who would develop the disease over the course of eight years. The men and women were categorized as having a low, medium, or high genetic risk for dementia based on the presence of gene variations in their DNA known to contribute to the condition. They were also scored on whether they exercised regularly; ate a diet high in fruits, vegetables, fish, and whole grains and low in processed meat, red meat, and refined grains; were a non-smoker; and consumed on average less than one alcoholic drink per day…