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Healthy Lifestyle Linked to Longer Life Without Dementia

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Healthy Lifestyle Linked to Longer Life Without Dementia

Certain elements of a healthy lifestyle are linked to living longer without Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new study published in the journal BMJ.

Many studies have found links between certain lifestyle habits and the risk for dementia, or advanced cognitive impairment. In people with newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes, greater physical activity is linked to a lower risk of developing dementia in the following years. Moderate physical activity has also been linked to a lower dementia risk in older adults. Many aspects of what people eat have also been linked to dementia — following a plant-based diet may help prevent age-related cognitive decline, and a high fiber intake may also help ward off dementia. Drinking tea or coffee may have a beneficial effect on your cognitive health as you get older, while eating inflammatory foods is linked to a higher dementia risk. Improving outdoor air quality by reducing air pollution has been shown to reduce the risk for dementia. And when it comes to blood glucose control, poor control in people with type 2 diabetes has been linked to a much greater dementia risk.

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For the latest study, researchers were interested in taking a broader approach to evaluating the link between lifestyle factors and Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. They used various measurements to create an overall healthy lifestyle score, rather than looking at just one factor in relation to new cases of dementia. The study participants were 2,449 adults who were age 65 or older at the beginning of the study. Researchers based each participant’s lifestyle score on five different factors — following a diet that promotes brain health, participation in cognitively demanding activities, getting moderate to vigorous physical activity, not smoking, and light to moderate alcohol consumption.

Healthy lifestyle linked to longer life, fewer years with dementia

The researchers found that among women in the study, those with four or five healthy risk factors lived an average of an 24.2 years past age 65, which was 3.1 years longer than women with zero or one healthy risk factor. What’s more, women with four or five healthy risk factors spent 10.8% of their remaining time with Alzheimer’s disease, while those with zero or one healthy risk factor spent 19.3% of their remaining time with Alzheimer’s. When the researchers subtracted years living with Alzheimer’s, the remaining life expectancy for women with four or five healthy risk factors was 21.5 years, and for women with zero or one healthy risk factor it was 17.0 years.

Among men in the study, those with four or five healthy risk factors lived an average of an 23.1 years past age 65, which was 5.7 years longer than men with zero or one healthy risk factor. Men with four or five healthy risk factors spent 6.1% of their remaining time with Alzheimer’s disease, while those with zero or one healthy risk factor spent 12.0% of their remaining time with Alzheimer’s. When the researchers subtracted years living with Alzheimer’s, the remaining life expectancy for men with four or five healthy risk factors was 21.7 years, and for men with zero or one healthy risk factor it was 15.3 years.

The researchers concluded that following multiple healthy behaviors was linked to a longer life, and less time with Alzheimer’s disease, in older adults — especially among men. “The life expectancy estimates might help health professionals, policy makers, and stakeholders to plan future health care services, costs, and needs,” the researchers wrote — but these results also serve as a helpful reminder to individuals about what’s at stake when it comes to everyday health-related behaviors.

Want to learn more about Alzheimer’s? Read “Keeping Alzheimer’s Disease at Bay.”

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips on social media

A freelance health writer and editor based in Wisconsin, Phillips has a degree from Harvard University. He is a former Editorial Assistant for Diabetes Self-Management and has years of experience covering diabetes and related health conditions. Phillips writes on a variety of topics, but is especially interested in the intersection of health and public policy.

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