A lot of diseases can be avoided or controlled by a healthy lifestyle, or cut down to their minimum, most experts tell us.
Even those who genetically had a high chance of developing dementia in particular can offset this risk cutting their odds by 32% if they keep fit and eat well.
Experts at Exeter University said as little as 20 minutes of cycling a day, eating plenty of fruit and veg and limiting drinking to a large glass of wine a day would be enough to reduce someone’s chances.
There is no need to have a ‘fatalistic’ view of dementia as even those at the highest genetic risk can do something about it, they told the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Los Angeles last week.
Researcher Dr David Llewellyn said ‘Some people believe it’s inevitable they’ll develop dementia because of their genetics.
‘However, it appears that you may be able to substantially reduce your dementia risk by living a healthy lifestyle.’
The take home message is that if you live a healthy lifestyle, that is associated with a reduced dementia risk – regardless of your genetic risk.
The study, published in the JAMA Medical journal, involved tracking nearly 200,000 British people, all of European ancestry and aged 60 and older. The participants’ DNA was analysed and they were grouped into high, intermediate and low risk groups for dementia, depending on their genetic makeup.
They were then tracked for eight years, in which time 1,769 developed dementia. Over all it was found that genes alone made a three-fold difference in the likelihood that someone will get dementia.
But those who had a healthy lifestyle were able to substantially reduce this difference – though they were not able to obliterate the risk all together.
Within each genetic risk grouping, those at high risk could cut their odds by 33%, those at intermediate risk by 20%, and those at low risk by 31%.
The researchers defined a healthy lifestyle as not smoking, eating a balanced meal of three portions of fruit and vegetables a day, eating fish twice a week, and generally avoiding processed meats. It involved doing moderate exercise, for example cycling at a normal pace for 2 and a half hours a week, or 20 minutes or so a day.
And it would involve drinking no more than a pint of beer a day, or a large glass of wine.
Researcher Dr Elzbieta Kuzma, also of Exeter, said the study was the first to analyse the extent to which genetic risk can be countered by lifestyle.
‘Our findings are exciting as they show that we can take action to try to offset out genetic risk for dementia’.
Dr Maria Carrillo, Chief Science Officer of the Alzheimer’s Association which host the conference said, ‘While there is no proven cure or treatment for Alzheimer’s, a large body of research now strongly suggests that combining healthy habits promotes good brain health and reduces your risk of cognitive decline.’
Dr Carol Routledge, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said, ‘While we can’t change the genes we inherit, this research shows that changing our lifestyle can still help to stack the odds in our favour.’
Dementia is a big problem in countries where people live longer and are inclined to drink alcohol and eat processed foods without much regard to the health risk they face.
I regard that fruit and vegetables are necessary for a good diet in old age and excess drinks are a health hazard, and eating a big meal at night is something which I religiously avoid.