Keeping a healthy lifestyle not only does the body good, but it can also help fight off the effects of dementia, a new study says.
Researchers at the University of Exeter investigated the benefits of living healthy on people who have been identified with a genetic risk for dementia.
Impact Of Healthy Lifestyle On Dementia Risk
The team found that individuals who exercise regularly, eat a balanced diet, do not smoke, and do not drink too much alcohol have a 32 percent lower risk of developing dementia than those who do not live a healthy lifestyle.
Meanwhile, people who have a high genetic risk and followed an unhealthy lifestyle were nearly three times more likely to develop the brain disorder than those who have a low risk and live healthily.
Elżbieta Kuźma, a researcher at Exeter's Medical School and one of the authors of the study, said their paper is the first study to examine how living a healthy lifestyle can help offset the genetic risk of dementia.
"Our findings are exciting as they show that we can take action to try to offset our genetic risk for dementia," Kuźma said.
"Sticking to a healthy lifestyle was associated with a reduced risk of dementia, regardless of the genetic risk."
Analyzing Genetic Risk
For the study, Kuźma and her colleagues looked at the medical data of more than 190,000 people aged 60 and older with European ancestry. These individuals are part of a long-term study known as UK Biobank.
The researchers identified more than 1,700 dementia cases among the participants throughout an eight-year follow-up period. They then placed the patients into three groups: high, intermediate, and low genetic risk for dementia.
To find out the participants' genetic risk, the team examined previously published data to identify all potential risk factors for Alzheimer's disease. These genetic risk factors were arranged depending on how strongly they are linked to Alzheimer's development.
The researchers also screened the patients regarding their lifestyles. They looked at the individuals' self-reported diet, physical activity, smoking, and alcohol drinking habits to determine whether they fall under favorable, intermediate, and unfavorable categories.
The team considered factors such as regular physical activity, healthy diet, non-smoking, and moderate alcohol consumption as healthy behaviors.
The results showed that having a healthy lifestyle may help lower the likelihood of dementia across all genetic risk groups.
Study coauthor Dr. David Llewellyn said the findings help undermine the fatalistic view that some people may have regarding dementia. There are those who believe they will develop the brain disorder no matter what because it is in their genetics.
However, Llewellyn pointed out that the new study presents the possibility that people can still substantially lower their dementia risk if they live a healthy lifestyle.
Dementia remains one of the biggest health problems in the world today, with an estimated 50 million people living with the disorder globally, according to the World Health Organization. About 60 to 70 percent of these cases involve Alzheimer's disease.
In the United States, about 5.8 million people of all ages are suffering from dementia in 2019.
Alzheimer's disease is now the sixth leading cause of death among Americans.
The results of the University of Exeter study were shown at this year's Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Los Angeles, California. They are also featured in the Journal of the American Medical Association.