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Lifestyle choices may help cut Alzheimer's risk

A grandfather picking radishes with his granddaughter.

July 7, 2020— Want to boost your chances of avoiding Alzheimer's disease as you age? Try combining a few good habits—from exercising to keeping your brain engaged. That's the takeaway from a study published in Neurology and backed by the National Institute on Aging.

The study compared the risk of developing Alzheimer's, a progressive disorder that harms memory and thinking skills, among nearly 3,000 participants. It rated the participants based on whether they maintained up to five lifestyle behaviors.

The key finding? The more of these healthy behaviors the people combined, the lower their Alzheimer's risk. Compared to those who followed none or just one healthy behavior:

  • Those who stuck to at least four of the lifestyle habits had a 60% lower Alzheimer's risk.
  • Those who maintained two to three of the behaviors had a 37% lower risk.

5 brain-healthy behaviors

Below are the five lifestyle choices the study linked to lower Alzheimer's risk:

1. Exercising regularly. Aim to get at least 150 minutes of moderate activity weekly, like brisk walking or jogging in place.

2. Quitting tobacco. If you smoke, programs and medicines can help you quit. Learn more about quitting smoking.

3. Avoiding heavy alcohol use, which gradually damages the brain.

4. Making healthy food choices. Aim for a plant-based diet that combines elements of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating plans. This kind of diet generally emphasizes fruits, veggies, whole grains and fish, and limits red meats, artery-clogging fats and sweets. Learn more about the DASH diet.

5. Staying mentally active. Engage your brain with interesting activities, like starting a hobby, volunteering, reading or learning to play an instrument.

Healthy body, healthy brain?

This study doesn't prove that these lifestyle traits ward off cognitive decline. But combining them may limit your risk in various ways.

Alzheimer's prevention is an area of active research. Many other studies looking at the potential benefits of lifestyle changes are ongoing.

In the meantime, you can learn more about Alzheimer's disease causes and risk factors in our Alzheimer's disease health topic center.

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