What Exactly Is the Healthy Lifestyle That Prevents Dementia?

Yes, some cases of dementia are preventable. If you have a genetic predisposition to develop dementia, the deck is stacked against you. But it’s not hopeless. A healthy lifestyle will help you, too.

The research at hand was done in the UK and involved over 500,000 older adults of European ancestry, free of dementia and cognitive impairment at baseline.

So what are the healthy lifestyle characteristics linked to lower risk of dementia, whether you have genetic risk or not?

  • Physical activity
  • Not smoking
  • Healthy diet
  • Judicious alcohol consumption

Lifestyle details from the research report:

A healthy lifestyle score was constructed based on 4 well-established dementia risk factors (smoking status, physical activity, diet, and alcohol consumption) assessed at baseline using a touchscreen questionnaire. Participants scored 1 point for each of 4 healthy behaviors defined on the basis of national recommendations (full details in eTable 1 in Supplement 1). Smoking status was categorized as current or no current smoking. Regular physical activity was defined as meeting the American Heart Association recommendations of at least 150 minutes of moderate activity per week or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week (or an equivalent combination) or engaging in moderate physical activity at least 5 days a week or vigorous activity once a week. Healthy diet was based on consumption of at least 4 of 7 commonly eaten food groups following recommendations on dietary priorities for cardiometabolic health, which are linked to better late-life cognition and reduced dementia risk. Previous studies of alcohol consumption and dementia risk support a U-shaped relationship, with moderate consumption associated with lower risk. Therefore, moderate consumption was defined as 0 to 14 g/d for women and 0 to 28 g/d for men, with the maximum limit reflecting US dietary guidelines.

Source: Association of Lifestyle and Genetic Risk With Incidence of Dementia | Dementia and Cognitive Impairment | JAMA | JAMA Network

What do they consider a healthy dementia-preventing diet? At least four of the following food groups and consumption levels:

  • Fruits: 3 or more servings a day
  • Veggies: 3 or more servings a day
  • Fish: 2 or more servings a week
  • Processed meats: no more than 1 serving a week
  • Unprocessed red meats: no more than 1.5 servings a week
  • Whole grains: 3 or more servings a day
  • Refined grains: no more than 1.5 servings a day

Regarding alcohol, the guideline is no more than one drink a day for women, and no more than two a day for men. “One drink” is 14 grams of pure alcohol. In human terms, one drink is 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1.5 ounces of 80 proof distilled spirits (e.g., vodka, whiskey, gin).

We don’t know if the paleo diet would help prevent dementia or not.

Steve Parker, M.D.

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