A combination of healthy lifestyle choices such as eating well, exercising regularly, playing cards and socializing at least twice a week can help slow the rate of memory decline and reduce the risk of dementia, according to a decade-long study.
Memory is a fundamental function of daily life that continually declines as people age, impairing quality of life and productivity, and increasing the risk of dementia.
Evidence from previous research has been insufficient to assess the effect of a healthy lifestyle on memory trajectory, but now a study suggests that the combination of several healthy lifestyle choices – the more, the better – is related to mitigating the rate of memory decline.
“A combination of positive healthy behaviors is associated with a slower rate of memory decline in cognitively normal older adults,” researchers from the National Center for Neurological Disorders in Beijing, China, wrote in the BMJ.
Practicing multiple healthy lifestyle choices simultaneously “was associated with a lower likelihood of progression to mild cognitive impairment and dementia,” they added.
The researchers analyzed 29,000 adults over the age of 60 with normal cognitive function who were part of the China Cognition and Aging Study.
When the study began in 2009, memory function was measured using tests and people were checked for the APOE gene, which is the strongest risk factor gene for Alzheimer’s disease. Subjects were then followed for 10 years with periodic assessments.
A lifestyle score combining six factors was calculated: a healthy diet; regular exercise; active social contact; cognitive activity; non-smoker; and don’t drink alcohol.
Based on their score, ranging from zero to six, participants were divided into lifestyle groups – favorable (four to six healthy factors), average (two to three healthy factors) or unfavorable (0 to 1 healthy factors). ) – and in APOE-carrier and non-carrier groups.
A healthy diet was considered to be eating at least seven of the 12 food groups: fruits, vegetables, fish, meat, dairy, salt, oil, eggs, grains, legumes, nuts and tea.
Writing, reading, playing cards or other games at least twice a week was the second area of healthy behavior.
Other domains included drinking alcohol, exercising for more than 150 minutes per week at moderate intensity or more than 75 minutes at vigorous intensity, and never having smoked or being an ex-smoker.
Social contact at least twice a week was the sixth healthy behavior, including activities such as visiting family and friends, attending meetings or going to parties.
After accounting for factors that could affect the results, the researchers found that each individual healthy behavior was associated with slower memory decline than the 10-year average.
A healthy diet had the greatest effect on slowing memory decline, followed by cognitive activity, and then physical exercise.
People with the APOE gene who had overall healthy lives also experienced slower memory decline than those with APOE who were the least healthy.
Overall, people with four to six healthy behaviors or two to three were nearly 90% and nearly 30% less likely to develop dementia or mild cognitive impairment, respectively, compared to those who were the least healthy. , reported the BMJ.
Dr Susan Mitchell, policy manager at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “This is a well-conducted study, which has followed people over a long period of time, and adds to the substantial evidence that a lifestyle healthy can help support memory and thinking skills as we age.
“Too few of us know that there are steps we can all take to reduce our risk of dementia later in life.”