Summary: Healthy eating, daily exercise, reducing alcohol consumption, and not smoking not only lead to a longer life, but they can also reduce Alzheimer’s risk.
Source: Rush University Medical Center
Everyday habits that serve as the backbone of a healthy lifestyle may keep your brain sharp and help you live longer, according to new research from aging experts at RUSH.
A study recently published in the British Medical Journal found that people ages 65 and older who had a healthy lifestyle lived longer—3.1 years longer for women, 5.7 years longer for men—than their peers who didn’t have the same healthy lifestyle. They also spent more of their remaining years without Alzheimer’s disease.
What constitutes a healthy lifestyle?
In the study, participants had a high lifestyle score if they reported at least four of these five habits, or what researchers called healthy factors:
Eating the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurogenerative Delay (MIND) diet
Staying engaged in cognitive activities like reading and puzzles
Being physically active for at least 150 minutes a week
Limiting alcohol use (no more than one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men)
“We evaluated these lifestyle factors in combination because they may have synergistic effects on dementia risk,” says Klodian Dhana, MD, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the Rush Institute for Healthy Aging and Department of Internal Medicine at Rush University Medical Center.
“Previously, researchers have shown that the MIND diet, which is part of the lifestyle score, is associated with a slower cognitive decline and a lower risk for dementia.” The MIND diet favors healthy fats and plants over animal-based and highly processed foods.
Excellence in aging research
This latest study builds on ongoing research from RUSH showing that lifestyle factors can potentially reduce the risk for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia by up to 60%, says Kumar Rajan, Ph.D., professor of epidemiology and director of the Rush Institute for Healthy Aging.
The research program is focused on the epidemiology of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias and draws from a longitudinal study of more than 10,000 Chicago residents known as the Chicago Health and Aging Project (CHAP). “CHAP is a biracial, population-based study with more than 60% African Americans and about 20 years of follow-up, performed in four urban Chicago communities,” Rajan explains.
Researchers are trying to understand the epidemiological factors focused on biological processes, blood and neuroimaging biomarkers, and risk factors (including psychological and social determinants) that contribute to the development of dementia, he adds.
Investigating a genetic factor for Alzheimer’s
In an earlier study published in Alzheimer’s and Dementia, Rush researchers focused on race differences and investigated the protective role of a healthy lifestyle in African Americans and European Americans. They also tracked the apolipoprotein E4 (APOE4) allele, a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. “African Americans are more likely than European Americans to carry the APOE4 allele,” Dhana says.
In African Americans and European Americans, the researchers found that people who reported a healthier lifestyle (meaning they had at least four healthy factors like a high-quality diet, regular exercise, not smoking and only light or moderate drinking) had a slower rate of cognitive decline when compared with individuals who reported only one or no healthy factors.
This was true in people with and without the genetic risk factor, APOE4 allele, Dhana says.
A healthy lifestyle score was developed based on five modifiable lifestyle factors: a diet for brain health (Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay—MIND diet score in upper 40% of cohort distribution), late life cognitive activities (composite score in upper 40%), moderate or vigorous physical activity (≥150 min/week), no smoking, and light to moderate alcohol consumption (women 1-15 g/day; men 1-30 g/day).
Life expectancy with and without Alzheimer’s dementia in women and men.
Results Women aged 65 with four or five healthy factors had a life expectancy of 24.2 years (95% confidence interval 22.8 to 25.5) and lived 3.1 years longer than women aged 65 with zero or one healthy factor (life expectancy 21.1 years, 19.5 to 22.4).
Of the total life expectancy at age 65, women with four or five healthy factors spent 10.8% (2.6 years, 2.0 to 3.3) of their remaining years with Alzheimer’s dementia, whereas women with zero or one healthy factor spent 19.3% (4.1 years, 3.2 to 5.1) with the disease.
Life expectancy for women aged 65 without Alzheimer’s dementia and four or five healthy factors was 21.5 years (20.0 to 22.7), and for those with zero or one healthy factor it was 17.0 years (15.5 to 18.3). Men aged 65 with four or five healthy factors had a total life expectancy of 23.1 years (21.4 to 25.6), which is 5.7 years longer than men aged 65 with zero or one healthy factor (life expectancy 17.4 years, 15.8 to 20.1).
Of the total life expectancy at age 65, men with four or five healthy factors spent 6.1% (1.4 years, 0.3 to 2.0) of their remaining years with Alzheimer’s dementia, and those with zero or one healthy factor spent 12.0% (2.1 years, 0.2 to 3.0) with the disease.
Life expectancy for men aged 65 without Alzheimer’s dementia and four or five healthy factors was 21.7 years (19.7 to 24.9), and for those with zero or one healthy factor life expectancy was 15.3 years (13.4 to 19.1).
A healthy lifestyle was associated with a longer life expectancy among men and women, and they lived a larger proportion of their remaining years without Alzheimer’s dementia. The life expectancy estimates might help health professionals, policy makers, and stakeholders to plan future healthcare services, costs, and needs.