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Recent study shows a healthy lifestyle is beneficial in decreasing the
risk of dementia

By Paul Wright, MD  |  7/25/2019

As a practicing neurologist, I am frequently asked to see patients with memory impairment. I also see many patients who are concerned about possible future memory issues due to a family member having Alzheimer's disease.

Most of us are aware that a healthy lifestyle has been shown to decrease cardiovascular risks; however, could a healthy lifestyle decrease dementia risks even with patients who have a high genetic risk for dementia?

A recent article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association answered this question by showing us a healthy lifestyle is beneficial in decreasing the risk of dementia in individuals with a high genetic risk. The authors hypothesized that if individuals adopt a healthy lifestyle, even though they have a high genetic risk, the incidence of dementia will be lower.

This was a large study that involved more than 196,000 patients who were followed for eight years. A lifestyle score was constructed based on four well-established dementia risk factors that included smoking status, physical activity, diet and alcohol consumption.

Smoking was categorized as either yes or no. Physical exercise was defined as at least 150 minutes of moderate activity per week. A healthy diet was based on consumption of at least four of seven commonly eaten food groups pertaining to cardiometabolic health. Moderate alcohol consumption was defined as 0 to 14 grams per day for women and 0 to 28 grams per day for men.

The results showed genetic risk and a healthy lifestyle were independently associated. Those with a high genetic risk and an unhealthy lifestyle had a significantly higher risk of dementia. Individuals without memory impairment and living a healthy lifestyle had lower risk of dementia, even if they had a high genetic risk.

I have always encouraged my patients to exercise and adopt a healthy lifestyle. It is important to push ourselves out of the proverbial comfort zone. This study provides proof we can modify genetic risks by doing this.

To read the full study, visit https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2738355.