A study of nearly 2,500 participants found that a healthy lifestyle is associated with longer life expectancy as well as additional years free of Alzheimer’s disease.
The findings, suggest US and Swiss researchers, could help healthcare professionals, policymakers and stakeholders plan for future healthcare services, costs and needs, the researchers say.
As part of the study, participants from the Chicago Health and Aging Project (CHAP) completed detailed diet and lifestyle questionnaires and a healthy lifestyle score was developed based on: a hybrid Mediterranean-DASH diet (a diet high in whole grains, green leafy vegetables and berries, and low in fast foods/fried foods and red meats); cognitively stimulating activities at the end of life; at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week; NO SMOKING; and low to moderate alcohol consumption.
Cognitive activities included reading, visiting a museum, or writing a crossword puzzle.
For each lifestyle factor, participants received a score of 1 if they met the health criteria and 0 if they did not. The scores of five lifestyle factors were added together to give a final score ranging from 0 to 5. A higher score indicated a healthier lifestyle.
After controlling for other potentially influential factors, including age, gender, ethnicity, and education, the researchers found that, on average, total life expectancy at age 65 for women and men with a healthy lifestyle was 24.2 and 23.1 years, respectively. But for women and men with less healthy lifestyles, life expectancies were shorter – 21.1 and 17.4 years.
For women and men with a healthy lifestyle, 10.8% (2.6 years) and 6.1% (1.4 years) of the remaining years were respectively lived with Alzheimer’s disease, compared to 19 .3% (4.1 years) and 12.0% (2.1 years) for study participants. with a less healthy lifestyle.
At age 85, these differences were even more notable.
While the study was population-based with long-term follow-up, it was an observational study and as such cannot establish cause.
The researchers pointed out other limitations, for example, lifestyles were self-reported, which can lead to measurement error, and the estimates provided in this study should not be generalized to other populations without research and validation. additional.
However, the researchers concluded: “This investigation suggests that prolonged life expectancy due to a healthy lifestyle is not associated with an increased number of years lived with Alzheimer’s dementia.
In a linked editorial, a University of Michigan researcher points to the study’s “significant implications for the well-being of aging populations and for related public health policies and programs.”
She suggested that the development and implementation of intervention programs to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias is of critical importance in global efforts to reduce pressure on health systems. stressed, paid and unpaid healthcare workers and caregivers.
“Promoting greater engagement in healthy lifestyles can increase dementia-free years of life – by delaying the onset of dementia without prolonging years of life spent with dementia,” she said. .