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At Genetic Risk for Alzheimer’s Disease? A Healthy Lifestyle May Help

Genetic Alzheimer's Prevention

Living a healthy lifestyle may reduce the risk for Alzheimer’s, even if you carry genes that put you at risk of developing the disease. Those are the findings from an analysis of nearly 200,000 men and women, age 60 or older, who had no memory loss or other early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease at the start of the study.

All completed an extensive lifestyle questionnaire asking about their diets, exercise habits and other lifestyle measures. They were also tested to see whether they carried various genes that are known to increase the risk that you will develop Alzheimer’s disease in older age.

A “healthy” lifestyle was defined as having three or four of the following, while an “unhealthy” lifestyle was defined as having only one or zero of the following:

  • Engaged in regular physical activity: Either 150 minutes a week or moderate activity like walking, or 75 minutes of more vigorous activity like jogging or cycling; or engaging in moderate physical activity at least five days a week or vigorous activity at least once a week.
  • Ate a healthy diet, defined as eating at least four of the seven following food groups regularly: three or more servings of fruit a day; three or more servings of vegetables a day; two or more servings of fish a week; one or fewer servings of processed meats like deli meats or hot dogs a week; fewer than one-and-a-half servings of red meat a week; eating three or more servings of whole grains a day; and eating fewer than one-and-a-half servings of refined grains, like cereal or white bread, a day.
  • Drank only low to moderate amounts of alcohol, averaging about one or fewer drinks a day for women, and two or fewer drinks a day for men.
  • Did not currently smoke.

Study participants were followed for about eight years. Over that time, those who had the unhealthiest lifestyles were at a 34 percent higher risk of developing dementia compared to those with the best lifestyle.

The combination of genetic predisposition and poor lifestyle was particularly potent. Those with both were at nearly triple the risk of those with the best scores in both domains.

The researchers calculated that among those with a genetic predisposition to Alzheimer’s disease, living a healthy lifestyle slightly reduced the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. For every 121 people who developed dementia, there would be one less case of dementia over 10 years among those who followed a healthy lifestyle.

The effect is not huge, but anything that may help to ward off Alzheimer’s disease is worth it. Alzheimer’s is caused by a whole range of factors, and there is no guarantee that living a healthy lifestyle will ward off the disease. Living a healthy lifestyle, however, may help.

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: Ilianna Lourida, PhD; Eilis Hannon, PhD; Thomas J. Littlejohns, PhD; et al: “Association of Lifestyle and Genetic Risk With Incidence of Dementia. JAMA July 14, 2019