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Dementia: The Lifestyle Changes That Could Help Lower Your Risk

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What the study tested and found

A research study of nearly 200,000 people conducted by a team at the University of Exeter has found that people’s risk of developing dementia can be reduced by up to a third if they follow a healthy lifestyle.

The researchers gave individuals a healthy lifestyle score based on exercise, diet, smoking and alcohol consumption.

The study followed 196,383 individuals from the age of 64 for roughly eight years.

As part of this extensive study, researchers analysed the participants’ DNA to assess their genetic predisposition to developing dementia.

Over the course of their study they found that there were 18 cases of dementia per 1,000 people if they had high risk genes and led an unhealthy lifestyle.

However, this decreased to 11 cases per 1,000 people if individuals with high risk genes led a healthy lifestyle.

What constitutes a ‘healthy lifestyle’

The researchers counted a healthy lifestyle if the individual:

  1. Didn’t smoke cigarettes
  2. Cycled at an average pace for two and a half hours a week
  3. Ate a balanced diet (including more than three portions of fruit and vegetables a day, fish and no processed meat)
  4. Only drank up to one pint of beer a day.

Whereas an unhealthy lifestyle includes:

  1. Smoking cigarettes regularly
  2. Not exercising regularly
  3. Consuming a diet which includes less than three servings of fruit and vegetables a week
  4. Drinking a minimum of three pints of beer a day

How much impact could these changes have?

Whilst the results the researchers found may seem like a fairly small change, this is because the study followed people in their mid 60s, which is relatively young in terms of developing dementia.

The researchers suggested that if these results were applied to older groups when dementia is more common it would have a profound effect.

Dr David Llewellyn said that “it could equate to hundreds of thousands of people” not developing the disease.

It’s also worth noting that this type of study can only spot patterns and can’t prove that healthy lifestyles will necessarily stop individuals from developing the disease.

Ways people can make these changes

It’s important to remember that no matter what you do you can’t guarantee you’ll never develop dementia. However, this shouldn’t stop you from evaluating your lifestyle and trying to live healthier.

Taking regular exercise classes and fitting in a nice walk can be a relatively accessible way of helping to improve your lifestyle.

You could also consider swapping out a cocktail for a mocktail and having a salad or two on a regular basis.

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