Genetically Predisposed To Alzheimer's? These Habits Might Slash Your Risk By 32%

Contributing Health & Nutrition Editor By Stephanie Eckelkamp
Contributing Health & Nutrition Editor
Stephanie Eckelkamp is a writer and editor who has been working for leading health publications for the past 10 years. She received her B.S. in journalism from Syracuse University with a minor in nutrition.
Genetically Predisposed To Alzheimer's? These Habits Might Slash Your Risk By 32%

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If you have a family history of Alzheimer's or dementia, chances are you're a little freaked out about how your own brain health will fare as you age. But, as the old saying goes, "Genetics loads the gun; lifestyle pulls the trigger." Meaning, you control so much of your health destiny, even if you are genetically predisposed to a particular chronic health condition—and happily, new research illustrates just that. 

In a new study published in JAMA, researchers found that people with a high genetic risk for dementia who followed a healthy lifestyle were 32% less likely to develop dementia than people at high genetic risk who followed an unhealthy lifestyle. So, you may be able to slash your risk of this debilitating brain condition by a third if you simply prioritize certain daily habits.

To reach this conclusion, researchers analyzed data from nearly 200,000 adults in the U.K. They determined participants' genetic risk for dementia and their overall lifestyle quality, and then, after crunching the numbers, they found that a healthy diet, regular physical activity, no smoking, and moderate alcohol consumption (e.g., a glass of wine a day for women) were the most consistent "healthy behaviors" associated with reduced dementia risk across all genetic risk groups.  

"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," said joint lead study author David Llewellyn, Ph.D., in a news release.

But while getting regular physical activity and not smoking are pretty straightforward, what exactly does this "healthy diet" look like? In this particular study, healthy diet was based on consumption of at least four of the commonly eaten food groups associated with cardiometabolic health (i.e., foods linked to a reduced risk of diabetes, heart disease, or stroke). These food groups include nonstarchy vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, fish, healthy oils (like olive and avocado oil), yogurt, and minimally processed whole grains. Diets that fit the bill include the Mediterranean diet and MIND diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay diet), which have both been linked to better late-life cognition and reduced dementia risk.

Bottom line: To keep your brain sharp despite the genetic odds, move your body daily, eat (and even drink!) like an Italian, and stay far away from cigarettes. New research also suggests sleep is super important for brain health, so be sure you're snagging enough shut-eye. Want more inspiration? Take a look at what renowned neurologist David Perlmutter, M.D., eats in a day for optimal cognitive and mental health.

Ready to learn how to fight inflammation and address autoimmune disease through the power of food? Join our 5-Day Inflammation Video Summit with mindbodygreen’s top doctors.

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