Affecting 1 in 10 adults, type 2 diabetes is a troubling condition that also increases a person’s risk of developing dementia. But a study published in the Sept. 14 online issue Neurology reveals that adopting seven healthy lifestyle habits may lower the dementia risk for diabetics.

Over an average of 12 years, researchers followed more than 150,000 people ages 60 or older without dementia at the start of the study. Participants completed health questionnaires, provided physical measurements and gave blood samples. For each participant, researchers calculated a healthy lifestyle score of zero to seven, with one point for each of seven healthy habits:

  1. Sleeping seven to nine hours daily.
  2. Regular weekly physical activity of at least 2.5 hours of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise.
  3. Moderate alcohol consumption of up to one drink per day for women and up to two a day for men.
  4. No current smoking.
  5. Eating a healthy diet including more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish and fewer refined grains and processed and unprocessed meats.
  6. Being less sedentary, defined as watching television less than four hours a day.
  7. Frequent social contact, defined as living with others, gathering with friends or family at least once a month and participating in social activities at least once a week.

Diabetics who followed two or fewer of the seven healthy habits were four times more likely to develop dementia than people without diabetes who followed all seven healthy habits. The association between healthy lifestyle score and dementia risk was not affected by medications people took or how well they controlled their blood sugar.

Researchers concluded that doctors and other medical professionals who treat people with diabetes should recommend lifestyle changes to their patients. Such lifestyle changes may not only improve their overall health, but also contribute to the prevention or delayed onset of dementia.