Combination of Lifestyle Traits Can Reduce Alzheimer’s Risk: NIH Study

June 20, 2020 Updated: June 21, 2020

A National Institute of Health (NIH) study with 3,000 participants shows that risks of Alzheimer’s disease substantially decrease through a combination of healthy lifestyle behaviors.

Funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), which is a part of the NIH, the research defined five healthy behavior factors—physical activity, not smoking, light-to-moderate alcohol consumption, a high-quality diet, and cognitive activities. Those who followed four of these five specified healthy behaviors were observed to have 60 percent lower risks of Alzheimer’s, NIH said in a statement.

“This observational study provides more evidence on how a combination of modifiable behaviors may mitigate Alzheimer’s disease risk,” NIA Director Richard J. Hodes said in the statement.

Klodian Dhana, assistant professor at Rush University Medical Center said that participants with no or one healthy lifestyle trait were at higher risk. Those with two or three healthy behaviors had a 37 percent lower risk.

“This population-based study helps paint the picture of how multiple factors are likely playing parts in Alzheimer’s disease risk,” said Dallas Anderson, program director in the Division of Neuroscience at NIA.

healthy seniors
(Alzheimer’s disease/Shutterstock)

Five Healthy Behaviors

The researchers said that for healthy aging, it’s important to do 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity every week.

The study found that even in those above 60 years old who have been smoking for decades, quitting can help to improve well being, and limiting alcohol improves cognitive health.

NIH defined a high-quality diet as a “Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diet, which combines the Mediterranean diet and Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet.” The MIND diet focuses on plant-based foods that are linked to dementia prevention.

The fifth healthy behavior for reducing Alzheimer’s risk is keeping the mind active by engaging in various cognitive activities.

“The findings strengthen the association between healthy behaviors and lower risk, and add to the basis for controlled clinical trials to directly test the ability of interventions to slow or prevent the development of Alzheimer’s disease,” said Hodes.

The researchers reviewed data from two NIA-funded studies. One was the Chicago Health and Aging Project (CHAP) that had 1,845 participants, and the other was the Memory and Aging Project (MAP) that had 920.

The analysis was done from those participants who had data for diet, lifestyle factors, genetics, and clinical assessments for Alzheimer’s disease.

The NIH is funding 230 active clinical trials related to Alzheimer’s conditions, and of these, more than 100 involve non-drug mediations such as exercise, diet, cognitive training, sleep, or combination therapies.

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