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Study: Healthy living fights Alzheimer's

PARIS -- Taking care of your body just might save your mind. Millions of cases of Alzheimer's disease worldwide could be prevented by curbing risk factors such as high blood pressure, smoking, obesity and lack of exercise, new research suggests.

The study offers more than the usual pep talk about healthy living. Seven conditions or behaviors account for up to half of the 35 million cases of Alzheimer's around the world, it found. With no cure or treatment to reverse the mind-robbing disease, preventing new cases is crucial.

The study, presented yesterday at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in France, was led by Deborah Barnes, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco. Results also were published online by the British journal Lancet Neurology. The researchers have grants from the Alzheimer's Association and the U.S. National Institutes on Aging.

The study used a mathematical model to estimate the impact of top modifiable risk factors for Alzheimer's disease: smoking, depression, low education, diabetes, too little exercise, and obesity and high blood pressure in mid-life.

How much of an impact each one has on total Alzheimer's cases depends on how common it is and how strongly it affects dementia risk. Researchers calculated the impact for the United States and globally.

Worldwide, the biggest impact on Alzheimer's cases is low education, because illiteracy is so common, they found.

Smoking was second.

In the United States, inactivity is the leading problem because a third of the population is sedentary, Barnes said.