What do your genes say about you?
Medicine is becoming more and more personalized. When prescribing medications, doctors are looking to genetics to make sure the medicine is a good fit for the individual. This is great for treatment, but it can lead us to think that we are doomed if our genetics predispose us to certain diseases.
The good new is – when it comes to brain health, your DNA is not your destiny.
Lifestyle choices are much more important in their impact on brain health than DNA.
Reduce Dementia Risk with Lifestyle Changes
In 2015, the FINGER study was published. It’s focus was reducing dementia risk by lifestyle changes.
The FINGER study identified specific lifestyle changes that lowered dementia risk. And these lifestyle changes fall within three distinct areas:nutrition, physical activity and mental activity.
The FINGER study focused on individuals over the age of 60 who were cognitively well. The participants in the study reduced dementia risk by making lifestyle changes. They increased their physical activity, the increased their mental activity and they paid attention to what they ate.
This was really good news for healthy seniors.
Starting Earlier Matters
A second study, called the MAPT study, did not have the same positive results for the senior population that they were working with.
There were two major differences in the study participants. In the MAPT participants were older. As well, they all had a health complaint which brought them into the MAPT study.
Being older and already sick, limits the effectiveness of lifestyle change. Therefore, starting earlier on dementia prevention has a more positive effect than waiting until frailty indexes increase. Being proactive with your lifestyle changes and engaging in mentally challenging activities should be part of your overall wellness strategy for aging.
The Genetic Factor
Another interesting aspect of the FINGER study was the reaction of individuals with the APOE 4 gene.
The APOE 4 gene is a gene variant that predisposes an individual to develop Alzheimer’s disease. The disease develops at a 3 to 8 times greater rate than those who do not have the gene variant.
The FINGER study found that individuals who have this gene variant and exercise actually have better outcomes than those who do not have the gene variant but do not exercise.
Fear Can Make You Focus
In my experience fear is a highly motivating factor. We know that taking care of our brain and heart through exercise, good nutrition and mental exercise is important. But, we find it hard to change an accumulated series of bad habits.
A triggering event can provide the motivation to change. A heart attack may help us change our bad habits. So too can the discovery that you have the APOE 4 gene. Knowing you have a predisposition to Alzheimer’s can provide motivation to improve your life choices.
The major takeaway from these trials is that genes are not your destiny.
Even if you have a gene variant that predisposes you to Alzheimer’s disease, the FINGER study shows that you are not predestined to this fate.