A healthy lifestyle cuts the chance of getting dementia by up to a third, a major study has found.
Even those who genetically have a high chance of developing the disease can offset this risk, cutting their odds by 32 per cent if they keep fit and eat well.
Experts at Exeter University said as little 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 was 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 night.
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 make-up.
They were then tracked for eight years, in which time 1,769 developed dementia. Overall, it was found that genes alone made a three-fold difference in the likelihood 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 altogether.
Within each genetic risk grouping, those at high risk could cut their odds by 32 per cent, those at intermediate risk by 20 per cent and those at low risk by 31 per cent.
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 involves doing moderate exercise, for example cycling at a normal pace for two-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 our genetic risk for dementia,’ she said.
Dr Maria Carrillo, chief science officer of the US Alzheimer’s Association, which hosts 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.’