A healthy lifestyle staves off dementia in old age – regardless of your genetic risk

SUZHOU, China — It’s often said that we don’t get to pick our families, which also means we don’t have the luxury of choosing our genes. Genetics influence a whole lot, but according to a new study a healthy lifestyle will put you in a good position to enjoy better brain health well into old age. Researchers in China add these cognitive benefits will last regardless of your genetic risk of dementia.

A team from Duke Kunshan University reports a healthier lifestyle among older adults over the age of 80 has a link to a lower risk of cognitive impairment. Moreover, whether or not an individual carries the APOE ε4 gene, which scientists believe increases Alzheimer’s disease risk, doesn’t appear to make a difference.

Previous studies have found that a healthy lifestyle, including healthy dieting and exercise, can help keep the brain young. However, it’s been unclear how such an approach to life influences the APOE ε4 gene.

The healthiest lifestyles can cut dementia risk in half

In pursuit of some answers, the research team analyzed data from 6,160 adults over 80 who participated in the Chinese Longitudinal Healthy Longevity Survey. Study authors  poured over the data looking for links between APOE ε4, lifestyle, and brain health. The team also accounted for each person’s sociodemographic factors as well.

Sure enough, that process led to the finding that older adults living either a “healthy lifestyle” or an “intermediately healthy lifestyle” were significantly less likely to experience cognitive impairment. More specifically, those living a healthy lifestyle were 55 percent less likely to suffer from mental decline. Those with an intermediately healthy lifestyle were 28 percent less likely. Notably, all participants with the APOE ε4 gene were 17 percent more likely to have cognitive impairment than those with other forms of APOE.

Study authors conclude their findings make a compelling case that no one should write off their future health just because their relatives developed dementia. An active, clean lifestyle led well into old age will put anyone in the best possible mental position to stave off cognitive decline.

The study appears in the journal PLOS Medicine.