Study: Exercise and healthy eating reduces Alzheimer's, dementia risk

Brand new research out of the United Kingdom shows that exercise and healthy eating can reduce the risk of contracting dementia and Alzheimer’s, even among people who may be genetically predisposed to the disease.

The research was published in the latest edition of The Journal of the American Medical Association. It’s a significant finding, especially since there are about 97,000 Minnesotans living with some form of Alzheimer’s. The number of Minnesotans living the disease grows each year, and so far there is no known way to stop it.

“Right now, we don’t have any one thing that we can people can do, or take that will prevent the spread of beta-amyloids, and tau tangle proteins in the brain,” said Leah Challberg of the Alzheimer’s Association of Minnesota and North Dakota.

According to the research, a longitudinal study of 196,000 people in the U.K. shows that non-smoking, physical activity and a healthy diet are critical, even among those who have a high genetic risk of developing dementia.

The researchers found that “participants with high genetic risk and unfavorable lifestyle had a significantly higher risk of incident dementia compared with participants with low genetic risk and a favorable lifestyle.” 

Challberg says these new findings line up with existing research.

“If you can elevate your heart rate three to five times a week, your risk for Alzheimer’s and other dementias are reduced significantly,” she said.

It’s not just late in life, but mid-life, too.

“And what they are finding is that the brain changes that are leading to the Alzheimer’s symptoms later in life are often happening 20 or 30 years before we see the symptoms,” said Challberg. “And so the body of research is moving toward earlier and earlier interventions to reduce that risk or even eliminate the risk of Alzheimer’s.”

Alzheimer’s doesn’t just affect its victims, but families, too. There are now about 250,000 Minnesotans who are caregivers for someone with Alzheimer’s.

The Alzheimer’s Association of Minnesota and North Dakota holds the Walk to End Alzheimer’s at various locations throughout Minnesota in September. The walks help fundraise for research to find a cure. For more information on an event near you, click here.