Our genes, inherited from our mother and father, can play a role in our risk for developing diseases. Scientists have identified the APOE4 gene as being associated with a higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease than the general population. New research,however, supports the idea you do have some control over your risk through lifestyle choices, despite your genes.
A two-year study conducted in Finland called the FINGER (Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability) study looked at how healthy lifestyle interventions affected the brain health of 1,109 people aged 60 to 77 who had genetic risk factors for memory disorders. The participants who received diet and exercise interventions, along with cognitive training and vascular risk management, showed beneficial effects on cognition despite having the APOE4 gene.
What does this mean?
The study’s findings suggests that a brain-healthy lifestyle, started before any cognitive impairment develops, can possibly help reduce the risk of developing dementia.
A brain-healthy lifestyle includes the following:
Exercise: People who exercise regularly have a lower risk for Alzheimer’s disease because it improves blood flow and memory, and stimulates changes in the brain to enhance learning, mood and thinking. Aim to get out each day and do some physical activity you enjoy.
Nutrition: Eating foods rich in antioxidants and following the Mediterranean style of eating are two of the best ways to use food to improve your brain health. Fill your plate with vegetables.
Regular doctor visits: Hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, high cholesterol, head trauma and smoking all increase the risk for dementia. Get your annual checkup and follow your doctor’s recommendations.
Stay Curious: Continuing to learn and trying new things like playing an instrument or learning a new language can help promote new cell growth in the brain, protecting it from disease. Try something new!
Be social: Relationships provide sources of support and enhance intellectual stimulation. Invite a friend over for coffee.
Rest well and Relax: Sleep energizes you, improves your mood, boosts your immune system and may reduce buildup of beta-amyloid plaque, an abnormal protein associated with Alzheimer’s. Keep you bedroom dark, don’t use electronics at bedtime and develop a relaxing bedtime ritual.
To learn about the six pillars of health and their importance in keeping your brain healthy, visit healthybrains.org/pillars.
Would you like to learn more about scientific research on Alzheimer’s disease prevention?
If you’re between the ages of 55 and 75 and haven’t been diagnosed with cognitive impairment, you may want learn about the Alzheimer’s Prevention Registry GeneMatch program. GeneMatch will connect you with Alzheimer’s research studies for which you may be eligible, based on your genetic profile. For more information, or to attend an event at Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, visit https://healthybrains.org/events/.