All you have to do is eat well, stay active to reduce your risk of this debilitating disease

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You’re not necessarily doomed to dementia, even if it does run in your family.

By adopting a healthy, active lifestyle, many people can lower their risk of the disease, new research led by the University of Exeter suggests. Their study of almost 2,000 people showed the dementia risk in healthy, active people fell by 32%.

People with a high genetic risk for dementia were three times more likely to develop it than those without a genetic risk – but that was without exercise and a healthy lifestyle.

The study followed 196,383 people from the age of 64 for about 8 years, and analyzed their DNA to appraise their genetic risk of developing dementia. The study showed there were 18 cases of dementia per 1,000 people if they were born with high-risk genes and led an unhealthy lifestyle. But that decreased to 11 cases per 1,000 if the high-risk people had a healthy lifestyle.

Joint lead author Dr. Elżbieta Kuźma, at the University of Exeter Medical School, said in a release: “This is the first study to analyze the extent to which you may offset your genetic risk of dementia by living a healthy lifestyle. Our findings are exciting as they show that we can take action to try to offset our genetic risk for dementia.”

The researchers gave people a healthy lifestyle score based on a combination of lifestyle choices around exercise, diet, alcohol, and smoking. An example of a healthy, active person  would be someone who doesn’t currently smoke, exercises regularly, eats a balanced diet, and drinks in moderation.

A person who rates as unhealthy would probably be a current smoker who does no regular exercise and eats an unhealthy diet, drinking more alcohol than qualifies as moderate.

The power is in your hands, says Dr. David Llewellyn, the study co-author.

“Even if you’re worried about dementia, maybe you’ve got a family history yourself, what our research suggests is it does’nt matter,” said Dr. Llewellyn of the University of Exeter Medical School told the BBC. “You’re still likely to lower your own risk of dementia substantially if you change to a healthy lifestyle. That’s really empowering.”