Scientists home in on 6 lifestyle choices that can slow memory decline

A study following nearly 30,000 older adults for more than 10 years has found six key healthy lifestyle factors can significantly reduce memory loss in old age. The findings revealed those adults engaging in between four and six of the healthy lifestyle behaviors could significantly reduce their risk of developing dementia, even when carrying genes that make them more susceptible to Alzheimer’s disease.

The new research set out to quantify the impact of several healthy lifestyle factors on age-related memory decline in an elderly cohort. The goal was to understand what effect certain lifestyle factors had on slowing memory decline in old age.

“Six healthy lifestyle factors were assessed: a healthy diet (adherence to the recommended intake of at least 7 of 12 eligible food items), regular physical exercise (≥150 min of moderate intensity or ≥75 min of vigorous intensity, per week), active social contact (≥twice per week), active cognitive activity (≥twice per week), never or previously smoked, and never drinking alcohol,” the researchers explained in the new study. “Participants were categorized into the favorable group if they had four to six healthy lifestyle factors, into the average group for two to three factors, and into the unfavorable group for zero to one factor.”

The results found those participants in the favorable lifestyle group showed significantly slower rates of memory decline over a 10-year period compared to those subjects in the average or unfavorable groups. Looking at rates of new dementia diagnoses over the 10-year study period the researchers found those in the favorable lifestyle group were 90% less likely to develop dementia compared to those in the unfavorable group. Participants in the average group, with two to three healthy lifestyle behaviors, were only 30% less likely to develop dementia, suggesting a significant increase in cognitive benefits can be gained by adding more healthy behaviors to the lifestyle mix.

The researchers do note the study was not set up to effectively uncover which of the six lifestyle factors was the best target for dementia prevention, or which specific combination of factors was optimal. However, a breakdown of the data did indicate a healthy diet seemed to confer the greatest effect on preventing memory decline, with active cognitive activities and regular exercise closely behind.

Around 20% of the study cohort carried a particular gene variant known to increase risk for Alzheimer’s disease. In this group the combination of several healthy lifestyle behaviors also slowed the rate of memory decline, suggesting significant benefits can be garnered from lifestyle changes even in those with a genetic risk for Alzheimer’s.

“Although each lifestyle factor contributed differentially to slowing memory decline, our results showed that participants who maintained more healthy lifestyle factors had a significantly slower memory decline than those with fewer healthy lifestyle factors,” the study concludes. “This information could be useful in making personal choices that can help to protect against memory decline, and our results provide further evidence that memory loss is potentially modifiable.”

The study was published in The BMJ.

Source: The BMJ

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