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Published on: March 24, 2014
by Jo Willey for Daily Express:
A HEALTHY lifestyle does beat dementia and the sooner people ditch bad habits the better, a leading expert on ageing revealed yesterday.
Professor John Gallacher said a good diet, not smoking, taking exercise and limiting alcohol intake are more important than genetics for cutting the risk of Alzheimer’s.
Most importantly, it is never too late to make simple changes to lifestyle to help protect against the killer brain disease, he said. And rather than trying to fix everything at once, he suggests altering just one thing at a time.
Speaking exclusively to the Daily Express, Professor Gallacher said: “Unhealthy British lifestyles are directly contributing to the huge increase in dementia rates that we are seeing in this country.
“All the evidence shows there is a significant impact of lifestyle on dementia risk.
“For late-onset Alzheimer’s disease, lifestyle is in most cases more important than genetics.
“For example, if you take moderate exercise, if you have a healthy diet, if you don’t smoke and don’t drink much alcohol, then you are less likely to get dementia than if you do those things.”
Professor Gallacher, from the Institute of Primary Care and Health at Cardiff University, added: “The message needs to get out there that the earlier you start to adopt these healthy lifestyles the lower your risk of dementia will be. There are just enormous benefits in reviewing how you live.
“There is no time at which it is too late to change and the earlier the better.
“I would advise people if you look at all the different behaviours such as regular exercise, healthy eating and so on, pick one and change one.
“When you have got that sorted, pick another and change that.
“To try to change everything all at once is a big ask.”
Professor Gallacher was speaking ahead of his talk tomorrow to the Alzheimer’s Research UK conference in Oxford, where scientists will share their progress in the drive to defeat dementia.
He said that although known Alzheimer’s risk genes are being identified all the time, they individually do not increase dementia risk by very much.
He said: “If, for example, in your genetic make-up you get dealt a bad hand and get all those risk genes together, then your risk is higher. But very, very, very few people are that unlucky.
“But if you don’t do exercise and smoke a lot and have all the wrong sort of food then the likelihood of you increasing your risk is actually quite high.
“In terms of the impact on the population, lifestyle is having a much bigger impact than genetics.
On average, lifestyle could affect your risk by up to 20 per cent and genes five or six per cent.
“It is a massive increase in the risk and it could be changed so easily. It is not just about Alzheimer’s disease. The whole ageing process is accelerated with an unhealthy lifestyle.”
Dr Laura Phipps, of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “Many people think of Alzheimer’s as a disease that only affects older people, but we know it begins to develop years before symptoms start to appear.
“Increasing evidence suggests that following a healthy lifestyle in midlife can also boost our health in later life.
“It’s important to continue research to better understand the risk factors and find ways to prevent this devastating disease.”
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