A combination of healthy lifestyle choices, such as eating right, exercising regularly, playing cards and socializing at least twice a week, may help slow the rate of memory loss and reduce the risk of dementia, a 10-year study suggests.
Memory is a fundamental function of everyday life that continually declines as people age, affecting quality of life and productivity and increasing the risk of dementia.
Evidence from previous research was insufficient to evaluate the effect of a healthy lifestyle on memory trajectory, but now a study suggests that combining multiple healthy lifestyle choices — the more the merrier — is linked to mitigating the rate of memory loss.
“A combination of positive healthy behaviors is associated with slower 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 together “was associated with a lower likelihood of progression to mild cognitive impairment and dementia,” they added.
Researchers analyzed 29,000 adults over age 60 with normal cognitive function who were part of the China Cognition and Aging Study.
At the start of the study in 2009, memory function was measured with tests and people were checked for the APOE gene, the strongest risk factor gene for Alzheimer’s disease. Subjects were then followed for 10 years with periodic assessments.
A healthy lifestyle score was calculated that combined six factors: a healthy diet; regular exercise; active social contact; cognitive activity; do not smoke; and not drink alcohol.
Based on their scores, ranging from zero to six, participants were categorized into lifestyle groups—favorable (four to six healthy factors), moderate (two to three healthy factors), or unfavorable (0 to 1 healthy factors)—and APOE carrier – and non-carrier groups.
A healthy diet was considered to include eating at least seven of the 12 food groups: fruits, vegetables, fish, meat, dairy products, salt, oil, eggs, cereals, legumes, nuts, and tea.
Writing, reading, playing cards or other games at least twice a week was the second area of healthy behavior.
Other areas included not drinking alcohol, exercising more than 150 minutes per week at moderate intensity or more than 75 minutes at high intensity, and having never smoked or been an ex-smoker.
Socializing at least twice a week was the sixth healthy behavior, which included activities such as visiting family and friends, attending meetings, or going to parties.
After accounting for factors likely to influence the results, the researchers found that each individual healthy behavior was associated with a slower-than-average memory decline over a 10-year period.
A healthy diet had the strongest effect on slowing memory loss, followed by cognitive activity and then exercise.
People with the APOE gene who had generally healthy lives also experienced slower memory decline than those with APOE who were 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, the BMJ reported.
Dr. Susan Mitchell, head of policy at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “This is a well-conducted study, which followed people over a long period of time, and adds to the substantial evidence that a healthy lifestyle can help support memory and thinking. ” skills as we get older.
“Too few of us know there are steps we can all take to reduce our chances of developing dementia later in life.”