A healthy lifestyle gives you more years without Alzheimer’s

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Scientists from Rush University found that a healthy lifestyle is associated with a longer life expectancy among both men and women, and they live a larger proportion of their remaining years without Alzheimer’s disease.

The findings show that a healthy lifestyle is linked to longer life expectancies, but crucially the extra years did not mean extra years lived with Alzheimer’s.

The research is published in The BMJ and was conducted by Klodian Dhana et al.

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

A healthy lifestyle—adequate exercise, cognitive engagement, and a healthy diet—may reduce the risk of dementia and extend life expectancy.

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, the question remained as to whether it might increase the years spent with the disease.

In the study, the team analyzed the potential impact of a healthy lifestyle on the number of years spent living with and without Alzheimer’s.

They used data from 2449 participants aged 65 years and older (average age 76), with no history of dementia.

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.

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.

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.

These findings suggest that a prolonged life expectancy owing to a healthy lifestyle is not accompanied by an increased number of years living with Alzheimer’s dementia.

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