A large study published in JAMA has found that a healthy lifestyle can cut your risk of developing Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia even if you have genes that raise your risk for these diseases. The study found that people with high genetic risk and poor health habits were about three times more likely to develop dementia versus those with low genetic risk and good habits.
The report, compiled by the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, assessed study participants’ lifestyles on these five lifestyle habits:
• Diet: did the participant consume a high-quality diet, defined as being mostly vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, seafood, poultry and olive oil, while avoiding red meats, butter, cheese, pastries, sweets and fried food?
• Exercise regimen: did the participant exercise at least 150 minutes per week?
• Smoking habits: did the participant smoke?
• Alcohol consumption: did the participant consume no more than one glass of wine per day?
• Engagement in cognitive stimulation activities: did the participant engage in mentally stimulating activities like reading the newspaper, visiting the library or playing games such as chess and checkers, at least two to three times per week?
The researchers then scored each factor, assigning participants a ‘1’ if their behavior was healthy in that category and a ‘0’ if it was unhealthy. For example, if they smoked, the would get a “0,” but if they ate a healthy diet they would get 1 point. When added up, the researchers found that those who scored 4 out 5, meaning they pursued four or five healthy behaviors over the period studied – were 60% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s compared with participants who scored 0 or 1.
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