A Healthy Lifestyle Can Mean Living Longer and Free of Alzheimer’s Disease

May 2, 2022

A healthy lifestyle can lead to a longer life, and more of those years will be free of Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new report. The findings add to a growing body of evidence showing that what we eat and drink, the intellectual activities we engage in and how much exercise we get can all help to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease as we age.

For this large and convincing study, American and Swiss researchers looked at 2,449 men and women 65 and older who were part of an ongoing study called the Chicago Health and Aging Project. Their average age was 76. All were free of Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia at the start of the study.

The study participants filled out detailed questionnaires about their lifestyle habits, including a healthy diet, regular exercise and engagement in cognitively stimulating activities, all of which have been tied to a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

The researchers specifically asked about five factors tied to better brain health:

  • Tending to eat a heart-healthy Mediterranean-style diet, rich in whole grains, green leafy vegetables, seafood and healthy fats like olive oil, and low in fast food, fried foods and red meats;
  • Regularly engaging in cognitively stimulating activities like reading, doing crossword puzzles or visiting museums;
  • Not smoking;
  • Limiting alcohol consumption; and
  • Getting at least 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise.

The researchers followed the study participants for an average of more than six years. They found that, on average, the men and women who most closely adhered to a healthy lifestyle tended to live the longest. For those who met four or five of these criteria, their expected life expectancy at age 65 was an additional 24.2 years for the women and 23.1 years for the men. Those who lived the least healthy lifestyles, in contrast, tended to have life expectancies that were 3 to 6 years shorter.

In addition, those living the healthiest lifestyles tended to remain mentally intact longer. As a group, those who developed Alzheimer’s lived for 1 to 3 years with the disease, compared to 2 to 4 of the final years in those with the less healthy lifestyles.

Living a healthy lifestyle cannot guarantee that you won’t get Alzheimer’s disease. But it may delay the onset of memory loss by years, the findings suggest. “This investigation suggests that a prolonged life expectancy owing to a healthy lifestyle is not accompanied by an increased number of years living with Alzheimer’s dementia,” the researchers concluded.

Many factors are involved in who gets dementia in old age, including genetics and other facets of health. Exercise, diet and other lifestyle factors are not a cure for Alzheimer’s, but they may really help people stay mentally sharper longer and delay the progression of dementia symptoms, the results of this and other studies suggest. 

By ALZinfo.org, The Alzheimer’s Information Site. Reviewed by Marc Flajolet, Ph.D., Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation at The Rockefeller University.

Source: Klodian Dhana, Oscar H. Franco, Ethan M. Ritz, et al: “Healthy lifestyle and life expectancy with and without Alzheimer’s dementia: population based cohort study.” The BMJ, April 13, 2022.


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