Alzheimer’s disease may be prevented through healthy lifestyle

Healthy lifestyle could help people to live longer and live a life without the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

The US study published by The BMJ today suggests that a healthy lifestyle is associated with longer life expectancies, but crucially the extra years did not mean extra years lived with Alzheimer’s. Researchers say that a healthy lifestyle—adequate exercise, cognitive engagement, and a healthy diet—may reduce the risk of dementia and extend life expectancy.

The number of people living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias is expected to treble worldwide by 2050, from an estimated 57 million in 2019 to 152 million in 2050.

Also, reaching older ages is associated with a higher risk of Alzheimer’s. So, although a healthier lifestyle may delay the onset of Alzheimer’s dementia, it may increase the years spent with the disease.

To investigate this lesser-known issue further, a team of US and Swiss researchers have analyzed the potential impact of a healthy lifestyle on the number of years spent living with and without Alzheimer’s.

The study analyses data from 2449 participants aged 65 years and older (average age 76), with no history of dementia, within the Chicago Health and Aging Project (CHAP).

Participants completed detailed diet and lifestyle questionnaires and a healthy lifestyle score was developed based on: a hybrid Mediterranean-DASH Diet (a diet rich in whole grains, green leafy vegetables and berries and low in fast/fried food, and red meats); late-life cognitively stimulating activities; at least 150 minutes a week of physical activity; not smoking; low to moderate alcohol consumption.

Cognitive activities included reading, visiting a museum or doing crosswords.

For each lifestyle factor, participants received a score of 1 if they met the criteria for healthy, and 0 if they did not. Scores from five lifestyle factors were summed to yield a final score ranging 0 to 5. A higher score indicated a healthier lifestyle.

After taking into account other potentially influential factors, including age, sex, ethnicity and education, the researchers found that, on average, the total life expectancy at age 65 in women and men with a healthy lifestyle was 24.2 and 23.1 years, respectively. But for women and men with a less healthy lifestyle, life expectancy was shorter– 21.1 and 17.4 years, the study shows.

For women and men with a healthy lifestyle, 10.8% (2.6 years) and 6.1% (1.4 years) of the remaining years were lived with Alzheimer’s respectively, compared to 19.3% (4.1 years) and 12.0% (2.1 years) for study participants with a less healthy lifestyle.

At age 85, these differences were even more notable.

While the study was population-based with long-term follow-up, this was an observational study, and as such, cannot establish cause.

The researchers point to some other limitations, for example, lifestyles were self-reported, possibly leading to measurement error, and the estimates provided in this study should not be generalized to other populations without additional research and validation.