These lifestyle habits could protect your mental health down the road, scientists say.

By Maggie O'Neill
July 15, 2019

As is the case with a number of diseases, some people are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than others.

But new research suggests that certain lifestyle habits might be able to offset your genetic risk of developing Alzheimer’s. The research was presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Los Angeles yesterday.

And changing up a few of your daily habits to lessen your risk could be well worth your trouble. The new research finds that people with a high genetic risk were a third less likely to develop dementia if they followed a healthy lifestyle, compared to their counterparts who lead unhealthy lifestyles.

Health spoke to an expert to find out what you need to know about this new research.

What is Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. Sixty to 80% of people with dementia have Alzheimer’s, the  says.

Age is the biggest risk factor; the majority of Alzheimer’s patients are over 65. A number of genes can increase one’s risk of having Alzheimer’s.

Researchers believe that between 40 and 65% of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s have a gene called APOE-e4, which was the first gene identified as capable of increasing Alzheimer’s risk. Researchers are constantly studying new genes that influence Alzheimer’s risk, Rebecca Edelmayer, PhD, director of scientific engagement at the Alzheimer’s Association, tells Health.

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What does the new research say?

While we already knew that a few healthy lifestyle habits can boost brain health, what’s interesting about the new research is its conclusion that healthy lifestyle habits may decrease your genetic risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

Specifically, the researchers say that you should be doing the following to decrease your genetic risk of developing the disease: get enough exercise, eat clean, don’t smoke, and don’t drink excessively.

And even if you haven’t always stuck to these healthy habits, it can’t hurt to start developing them now. “It’s never too late to start,” Mary Sano, PhD director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at Mount Sinai in New York City, tells Health. It certainly can’t hurt to start following these rules, Dr. Sano adds. The downside is minimal, she says.

If you know you have an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s, the first step might simply be coming to terms with that, Sano explains. “If people acknowledge they have a risk factor, sometimes it increases their motivation to do something about it. They have a greater motivation to pay attention.”

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How can you lower your risk?

As Sano stated, there’s no real downside to maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine, going easy on alcohol, and refraining from smoking cigarettes. All of these healthy lifestyle habits will positively impact other areas of your wellbeing as well as your brain health.

If you’re already watching your weight and substance-use habits closely, there’s more you can do to decrease your risk, Edelmayer says.

She suggests incorporating cognitively stimulating activities into your daily routine to keep your brain on its toes. These can be “activities related to strategy [that are] outside of your normal routine,” Edelmayer says.

Sano echoes this, saying, “Intellectual and social stimulation have a positive benefit.”

She adds one more tip: “Managing stress, anxiety, and depression can be helpful.” So you can add decreasing your risk of having Alzheimer’s to the list of reasons you should prioritize your mental health.

RELATED: 25 Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease

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